Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 2 – The Adventure Begins
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
Mumbai Day 4
Today is the day I secretly dreaded – when we collect our motorbikes.
Originally we planned to purchase Royal Enfield 500CC bullets and ride them home – mostly – but plans go awry. We found no means to purchase bikes and then ride them out of the India without incurring massive administrative hurdles, bribes or other inconveniences. So we settle with renting the bikes, a process assisted by our good mate, Rashid.
Two of his guys, Moosha and Baghwan, pick us up about 1130. Before that our driver, Ramji, takes us to the helmet place and Kyle buys a helmet while I buy gloves. Damn, the prices are good. To buy a $300 helmet for $30 is not a bad gig. The quality is surprisingly good. We also buy oil and chain lube. Royal Enfields have a reputation for guzzling oil. Sort of a “check the petrol and fill up with oil” scenario.
Our ride to the bike shop as pillion passengers is intense. Those familiar with Asia will know what we mean, with the crowded roads and honking rarely experienced in the part of the world we broadly call the West. India takes delight in exceeding the Asian average of insanity, for it is a world where any vehicle will push into whatever space presents itself. I hide my nerves, for I know will soon negotiate this myself.
I have to ask myself: How am I going to manage the insanity of Mumbai traffic?
India has the highest road fatality figures in the world, higher only than China and the USA.
Will we survive?
The bike shop has the coolest of guys who love to talk about bikes. They seem in awe of our goals and there is a lot of prep talk, advice and tall tales, especially with an experienced rider named Farshad who advises the importance of hydration and being safe. “Hydration is the key, guys, especially when crossing the desert in Rajastan!” he exclaims. “Eat yogurt, you know, we call it curd. It coats your stomach and really helps. I have known of guys to get so dehydrated they start to bleed from their asses!”
“Also, never, ever, ride at night,” he stresses. The others all nod in sage agreement, for that will be suicide.
The crew at the shop all engage in celebration as they have never rented the bikes for such a long term, which is 30 days. Nor have any riders opted to travel to the north, instead look to the beach resort areas of Goa and lush Kerala to the south.
The time comes and our bikes were ready. Though we own our own helmets, we rent jackets and saddle-bags, which saves us from having to buy them. I am terribly nervous as I live in the fear of shame if I wobble too much or drop my bike. Thankfully Baghwan and Moosha lead us back through the tangle of afternoon traffic.
There is the normal process of getting used to the bike, the sensations of wearing the jacket and helmet in the Indian heat, of trying to look everywhere at once while avoiding honking and revving bikes, cars and trucks. Thank goodness we have the guys to follow, for the traffic is daunting.
Baghwan and Moosha work as production crew for Rashid and are involved in shoots for Bollywood and advertising, busily engaged in making the stars look their best. By their own admission they have met the most illuminated stars, though the names are lost to me. They might have been the Brad Pits and Jennifer Lawrences of Bollywood, but as I grunt in admiration, I have no clue.
At the hotel they join us for a celebratory drink. Purchasing beer in Mumbai seems a difficult process, with differing cultural norms from Australia’s beer-swilling culture. Any purchase seems furtive and secretive. Though we are not to have visitors at the hotel, the guys join us as we enjoy a few beers. I am not much of a drinker, but the others take delight as they enjoy what I could call ‘coldies’, but they are more like ‘coolies’ or ‘luke-warmies’. Well familiar to surviving in hotel rooms, we stack towers of empty cans and fool with a couple of sets of steampunk goggles I bought for fun. They are supposed to be sunglasses, but the lenses are so dark they could be used for welding.
Okay, I am the old fart of the group as the young men naturally relate best with Kyle, which is fabulous. The night passes all too soon and there are fond fair-wells.
We work at packing and getting prepared for the early departure the next day, so get to bed far too late. As seems to be my habit, with the stress of getting a good night’s sleep my active mind keeps me from sleep for most of the night. Kyle does little better.
On the Road – Day 1. To Aurangabad
We rise at 5am and already feel exhausted. It was a bad night and a 5am start makes us fragile and snappy.
It’s not the start we prefer.
Kyle’s saddle bags sit significantly lower, while with my old duffel bag my load sits high. Higher means a high centre of gravity and less stability. Kyle curses my excess crap. I brought a couple of yoga mats to help us stretch , a pillow, because I knew what pillows await us, some first-aid supplies and a sleeping bag. “Dad! Why do you have so much shit!” he grouses as we try to make the load secure. Kyle travels only with a knapsack.
As the hotel guards watch curiously, the predawn beckons. A few tuk-tuks speed by, but the normally busy road is almost abandoned. Almost every Indian male seems to have a fascination with 500cc Royal Enfield Bullets, as if they are a childhood dream.
We plan to navigate out of Mumbai using Google Maps – with an ear piece stuck into my right ear so I could hear instructions. Kyle used the system on his visit to the US and found it superb.
It was hot, so to ride kitted up with jackets, boots, long pants and gloves is only relieved with the wind our movement brings. Though some of the on-ramps to which we are guided seem oddly decrepit, we soon find the main highways and head out of Mumbai.
Thankfully progress is positive. There is little traffic and our world is obscured by a mist that smells of burned garbage. India is not unique in that it is horrendously polluted. I have travelled enough of Asia and the world to know that we are all drowning in waste. Anyone with eyes can see it.
What are we doing to our world?
But it feels good to be on the road. We navigate past huge trucks, up windy mountain roads where each corner is coated with loose gravel that is suicidal for bike riders. The country opens up and, from a distance looks lush and green, while trucks break down on the steep roads, leading to traffic hold-ups.
On our bikes, we speed past and head to Nashik. There are minimal delays. The roads are great. Yes, this will be a grand trip.
That is, until after Nashik.
The summer monsoons drenched India and Nepal. News of the north spoke of massive landslides, while in the south floods inundated communities. It was all part of the evening news and of no relevance until we ride our Royal Enfields through the aftermath. From Nashik to Aurangabad, the roads are brutal. The rains and floods scoured roads down to potholes and corrugation. Some are little more than gravel where roads used to be.
Our progress stops. To make matters worse, the local traffic is devoid of any common sense and tries to drive and overtake as if on paved roads. We were nearly run off the road so many times we lose count. Screaming curses in a closed helmet brings little satisfaction.
But outside of their cars, Indian people are just lovely. We stop for a drink of water and a bite to eat. As Kyle grabs a packet of sweet biscuits for our breakfast, a lovely little girl wanders over and wants to talk in English. She ends up asking if we can join her family for a meal but, because we are in such a hurry, we give our reluctant apologies. Her big brown eyes moistly swim with disappointment and, as we ride off, I am filled with regret.
Travellers should know that Google Maps is not reliable in rural India. Yes, I listen faithfully, but the female voice leads us astray. We are led down a muddy track into a field where the farmers look to us in horror. The track becomes little more than mud and ruts where the heavy road bikes become impossible to manage. In the end I drop my bike as wheels slide out and the top-heavy luggage drags me over.
I am so tired, so tired of making mistakes.
We are both tired and pissed off. Kyle doesn’t even laugh.
With the help of local farmers we pick up the bike and turn around, only for me to again fall in what is a pretty spectacular, mud inspired stack. I am rattled, muddied and begin to doubt myself. Not only is this taking so long, it is supremely challenging to even stay on the bike at all. I decide to dump the annoying voice of Google Maps and use our backup map system, Guru Maps, what I normally use whenever I travel. We drive through villages with fat pigs and dogs with udders until we find a real road. Through the potholed mess, we eventually arrive at our destination of Ellora, to the north of Aurangabad.
Our plan is to visit the famous Ellora Caves, carved into the living rock of the mountain to create a system of structures that are a wonder. So, weary and exhausted, we ride to the wrong place, to another temple instead.
There we find a safe place for our bikes where our gear will not be stolen. Some kids try to scam us, but we aren’t in the mood. To make matters worse, in the temple all guys are to take off their shirts. I lost Kyle, who is held up because he has thongs in his backpack. I manage to avoid shirt removal and wait for him in the crowd.
We are lost.
Perhaps we won’t get to Ellora caves as planned? Kyle has had enough and is swearing in quite a spectacular fashion, so we become snappy. Alas, the Ellora Caves will have to wait.
Finding our accommodation is now our priority. We are hungry and tired, but true to form Google Maps leads us on a merry chase. To add to our misery, the accommodation is mis-signed. Foolishly, I had thought a glamping experience would be fun. Ahh, to stay in the wilds of India with a professional camping arrangement, views and wildlife. Except, are were no views, or wildlife, or showers that work, or hot water, or towels.
I opt to squat under the dribble of cold water while, in a monumental huff, Kyle refuses and sleeps in the day’s sweat and dust.
Okay. The tent is fine. The beds were rock-hard, after all, we are in India. But at least we can sleep. Right? We are exhausted by the last 24 hours. Kyle is so tired his arms won’t work. He has ‘Kermit the Frog’ arms.
Rest is all good in theory. But our tent does not soundproof us from staff that exuberantly yell to each other around midnight. Then there is an incessantly barking dog.
Dear God! If I had a gun …
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.