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 ot 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 obiously 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 probaby 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 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 champaigne .. 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 coner 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 arond 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 facinating 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 drve 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 ballancing 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 guage 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 hell 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 throught 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 enevitable 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 asperations 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 topup 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 moudly 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 outide . flicking electricity..stale humid air.. proper imersion .. 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 cappilaries .. 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 shak in the shade. Hot and himid and a million flies per soul. If this place was to suddenly transform and require air conditioning for a billion people.. Christ 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 selectiong what to ride.. buy the biggest bugger off horn you can and then build your bike around it. Loud horns aren’t allowed on bikes out here .. 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 Sheritan 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. Jesus 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 botiques 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 shtting 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 supposidly due to be the site of the Black Taj Mehal. 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 apparantly .. 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 stampeed 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 ..
Fantstic ride .. brain on full power .. all sences 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 entrirely sure welcome infrastructure starts to appear..
Very very expensive though.. probably more than at home. Not for the masses cerainly. 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 cavelcade 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 suiside 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 promsied 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 begining to flag too. Perhaps he has made the same promices 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 filty 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 refirbishment’
I must have some of the luckiest sences 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 supposidly 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..
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 carridgeway 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 bloody 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 muddly 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 irriparable. 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 derilict 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 intraveinous 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 carrigeway, and I’m definately 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 carrigeway 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 definately be in hospital. It starts but it sounds really odd .. the exhaust note is defiantely 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 rendevois, 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.
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 dispair. 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 electical 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.