Having our own wheels has proven to be a brand new way of experiencing India – much as we hoped it would be. Murphys Law being what it is we left Delhi in the rain! Not sure when they had it last but it is not supposed to turn up at this time of year. So our first real test of fully laden bike was through the streets of Delhi in the rain. That said Dave did a marvellous job. For him the bike is a bit of a challenge. The gears are on the wrong side, which then puts the foot brake on the wrong side as well. The gears are also upside down. On his bike at home he goes up through the gears by kicking upwards, on the Enfield it is first gear up, then 2nd, 3rd and 4th down so effectively everything is turned around. Throw in the fact that he is driving by looking at google maps on the phone and working off memory and I would have to say he is doing an amazing job.
Our riding so far has been a bit of a mixed bag. Out of Delhi there is not much to see. For mile after mile they are building a vast new city (Noida) that is apartment blocks, schools, industry, shopping, hospitals etc but at this stage I don’t think much of it is lived in. Kinda reminded me a bit of the Chinese cities that are being built with no one in them.
The countryside of Uttar Pradesh (the district we are in) is largely flat and uninteresting. It is completely developed with no natural spaces left and all we saw for hour upon hour was flat dry wheat fields and chimneys belching smoke from the brick ovens (lots of clay beds providing the raw fabric for bricks).
Learning to pace ourselves has been a challenge. When we bought the bike Lalli told us that we could expect to do 50km in 1hour20mins. It turns out he is dead on. Our first journey from Delhi to Agra was 200km and took us 6 hours. Fatally the next day we decided to go a little further and did 280km to Kanpur and that was a very painful 9 hours travel time. It got to the stage where I was swearing in my own head that I was NEVER getting on the bike again. We have now set new limits. Max ride is 200km and most days the preference is 100-150kms. It is just not worth wrecking ourselves/myself.
That said the riding has been good and the freedom is neat. Anytime we stop, be it overnight or just for a drinks break, we gather a huge crowd of onlookers. People will gather around both Dave and myself and the bike. They generally don’t say much as the country people have practically no English, but they stand and watch everything we do. Dave has had some issues with starting the bike and people will watch him kick and kick and kick the bike over and over (as in it is a kick start motor) until eventually someone will step forward and take over the job if they feel he has been kicking too long. Learning to kickstart an Enfield has been a whole new game as well – although he got some tips from a young guy and the first kick success rate is almost 100% now. Once we are all sorted they just stand and watch us ride away before returning to their daily business. Some days these crowds can be 10-15 people for half an hour or more.
Our most challenging ride thus far has been entering Varanasi. We had called ahead for a hotel down on the riverfront at the ‘burning ghats’ (more on that in the next blog) and the guy had said yeah no problems, they had rooms and yep his hotel was easy to find and that if we got lost here was his number and he would help us out. The ghats are the steps on the edge of the Ganges that people use to access the sacred river and have been in use for 100’s of years and as such are backed by a warren of streets of the “old town”.
We had ridden through the crowded streets of Delhi with no problems. And not just the crazy main roads but the chaos that was the motorbike district and the Main Bazaar where you are competing with vendors, pedestrians, motorcycles, tuk tuk taxis, trishaws (bicycle powered taxis), ox and cart, human pulled carts and random cows thrown in for good measure but nothing even comes close to the Old Town of Varanasi.
Again, using google maps, this time with me navigating from the back seat we set off into the rabbit warren. OMG!!! It was mind blowing. The streets are not – they are lanes, in fact calling them lanes is generous. They were tiny. And we are not. With the panniers on the bike is actually quite wide.
Not only are the lanes narrow but they are choked with vendors, pedestrians, parked motorbikes and cows (which are big and sacred so you can’t just give them a knock). Lonely planet calls the laneways “galis which are too narrow for traffic” – little do they know 😉 Turns out there was heaps of traffic.
Dave literally was riding with his feet on the ground trying to negotiate all of this while keeping the revs up on the bike (she can be a bit touchy and won’t idle in first as we are too heavy). It was crazy. Oh and did I mention hot – must be an airless 35-40degC in the rabbit warren. It was crazy!!! At one stage we managed to knock over a scooter that we clipped with the back of a pannier – everyone that was stuck behind us just held it up long enough for us to get past until they could right it again. We got caught behind cows that would eventually move out of the way and then things got really crazy. In a particularly tight part of one alleyway the bike stalled. Fortunately we were close enough to a t-junction for Dave to be able to walk the bike down so that the logjam of people and bikes behind us could get through. We got the bike started and as far as I could tell we were getting closer to our hotel. Dave was done in though from the hard work (which it really was) and the heat so when we hit a quiet street we pulled over for a breather. A couple of guys asked us where we were going and when I mentioned the hotel name they said “oh no, that’s not down here – it is over there” pointing back where we had come.
I couldn’t believe it. Dave went for a walk and it turned out google maps had lied to us. The hotel was not where we were. For that matter we could not work out either where the hotel was or where we were to ask for directions. In the end I rang the hotelier and handed the phone over to a local shopkeeper to tell him where we were. Phone came back to me with the call finished – the hotelier was gone. The funny little shopkeeper gestured that the man from the phone was coming here.
And did he ever. It was the closest I have ever seen to a knight in shining armour. We are both sweaty, tired and hot as hell and up rides this Indian gentleman on a gleaming chrome and black cruiser styled bike dressed all in pure gleaming white, smiling a genuine ‘oh you got a bit turned around’ smile. With more narrow alleys to negotiate it was decided I would walk and take the weight off for Dave but Niraj (our knight) had me pillion on his bike. That was the scariest 10 minutes of my life. He drives his skinny shiny bike like it was like an eel in terms of slipping through the cracks between cows and humans and I certainly was not going to hang onto him around the middle so I just perched there with my eyes largely closed and said a little prayer. Behind me Dave was having his own battles as he was trying to follow us. It seems that urinating cows do not care if you are on a motorbike trying to follow someone, when you gotta go you gotta go. And bumping them with the bike did nothing at all. 10 minutes after Niraj showed up we were safely to our hotel, gear unpacked off the bike and everything stowed. The only question we have now is how the heck are we getting out of here when it is time to leave 😉 But that’s what it can be like riding an Enfield in India heheh