Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 3 – Up and Down
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
On the Road – Day 2. To Indore in Central India
Morning we are a little grumpy. As we pack, we chat with the camping resort owner, who probably saw my bad Trip-Advisor post for their property. He appears eager to heed the minor suggestions that will help his property appeal to foreign visitors; like showers that work, and get rid of the incessantly barking dog! After all, they could do so much better. Kyle and I at least feel better than yesterday morning. With a few broken hours sleep under our belts, we depart for to the Ellora caves.
As is typical to India, here there are so many hidden places that astound. Without floods of foreign tourists or bus loads of Chinese, many of the most remarkable sights are mostly visited by Indians themselves. Ellora Caves are one such example.
Wikipedia describes the location as:
… one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple cave complexes in the world, featuring Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monuments, and artwork, dating from the 600–1000 CE period. Cave 16, in particular, features the largest single monolithic rock excavation in the world, the Kailasha Temple, a chariot shaped monument dedicated to Shiva. The Kailasha temple excavation also features sculptures depicting the gods, goddesses and mythologies found in Vaishnavism, Shaktism as well as relief panels summarizing the two major Hindu Epics.
There are over 100 caves at the site, all excavated from the basalt cliffs in the Charanandri Hills, 34 of which are open to public. These consist of 12 Buddhist (caves 1–12), 17 Hindu (caves 13–29) and 5 Jain (caves 30–34) caves, each group representing deities and mythologies prevalent in the 1st millennium CE, as well as monasteries of each respective religion. They were built close to one another and illustrate the religious harmony that existed in ancient India. All of the Ellora monuments were built during Hindu dynasties such as the Rashtrakuta Dynasty, which constructed part of the Hindu and Buddhist caves, and the Yadava Dynasty, which constructed a number of the Jain caves. Funding for the construction of the monuments was provided by royals, traders and the wealthy of the region.
Although the caves served as monasteries, temples and a rest stop for pilgrims, the site’s location on an ancient South Asian trade route also made it an important commercial centre in the Deccan region.
This amazing complex of caves and temple is well worth making the effort to visit. To add to their mystery, some suggest they were constructed in a manner to which the modern world would be incapable, or even constructed by aliens. Regardless, they are worth a good look and wonder. Our guide ensures that our bikes would be looked after. He was a nice guy and worth the small fee. Visitors, don’t forget to take a big bottle of water and hats.
To add to the charm, the area is infested with monkeys; the likable, gentle, Hanuman-like grey langur common to many parts of India.
We finally depart Ellora by 11am and hit the road. Kyle is especially keen to get going. Thankfully, the roads are pretty good and the area pleasant, so unlike the pressures of yesterday. Massive trees send down aerial roots while the countryside is lush and green. Best of all, we can go faster, which means 80kpm or more. The locals are wonderful. At one stop, the locals gather and buy us a pack of biscuits and chai. Of course these is the obligatory selfie.
Today’s goal is to get to past Indore.
Clouds gather on the horizon and scattered showers scud across the fields of corn and sugar cane. Our luck eventually runs out and we are soaked. We stop for chai as tropical the rain belts down. Soon enough, we are off again. I hope the soak and rapid dry will clean the incredible filth off my pants but, alas, no.
Of concern is how quickly the light fades. Accommodation is booked in Indore, but the kilometres seem to go by too agonizingly slowly. Too quickly it gets dark and I turn in desperation to Google Maps, but she keeps telling us to turn left where there is no left turn and do U-turns all of the damned time. We quickly learn why Rule One of Indian driving is to ‘Never Drive in the Dark’. Pedestrians walk in the middle of roads without street lighting, while vehicles approach from the opposite direction, against traffic flow, without lights. To make matters worse, it is festival time, so the roads are packed.
In desperation we turn to locals who guide us to our hotel. It is out of the way and very seedy. The guys there look like gangsters. “No hotel! Hotel gone broke!” they tell us angrily. I suspect they are employees who have not been paid.
“But we booked through Booking.com!” I explain.
“No hotel!” is the reply.
“Okay. Where can we go?” I ask. Things are very dark and we are off the beaten track. We do not want to get back onto those roads.
The only reply is an angry wave of the hand. It is a very bad vibe, made all the worse when a mama dog with puppies is bullied by one of the men.
No – it’s time to go. We ride off into the darkness. It’s so very dangerous. We barely avoid collision on too many occasions only because our bikes have great headlights. On two occasions we see crowds gather around accidents that involve motorbikes. At one, Kyle sees a limp limb as a victim lies on the road. “Dad! We have to get off these fucking roads!” he cries. “”This is so dangerous!”
I can only nod, frustrated at our pace. I have booked another hotel, which proves just as elusive as the first. Another exhausting hour on the road as we head to the heart of Indore after too many wrong turns and u-turns.
There it is! The sign pulses gently, offering comfort, safety and a neon wonderland in the darkness that typifies the Indian urban sprawl. It lies seductively across an ocean of vehicles that surge around an unlit roundabout. Not surprisingly, most of the vehicles have no lights. They believe turning on lights will flatten the battery.
Well, we have to cross this. I head into the flow. It’s suicidal, but we have to do it. We just have to be razor sharp.
I blame tiredness, anxiety and my lack of skills. I am hit. It is a shocking blow, though glancing. It sends the bike in one direction and me in another. I have the impression of the unlit van that hits me, the driver staring ahead, ignoring me. Next thing I know I am being helped up. “Are you okay sir?” someone yells. “Yes, thank you. Thank you. Is the bike okay?” I reply. I could imagine the shambles, but on inspection there is no indication as to where the collision occurred. Where did they strike the bike? I must have been missed by mere centimetres. I know I just dodged being killed. I’ll worry about that later.
Kyle is beside himself. “Are you okay Dad?” he repeatedly asks, but my attention is on the bike. After picking it up and wheeling it from the maelstrom, it won’t start. I can imagine the cost of buying a new bike, our trip savagely cut short on day 2! In the end a yogic looking guy helps. He closes his eyes and gently holds the accelerator, then hits the starter. Somehow, the bike surges to life.
Kyle is shattered and I am numb, but we still have to get through that traffic. There is no time to sit and feel sorry about what happened. I lead again and this time we manage to get through, dodging bikes, cars, tuk-tuks and vans. As we stop at the hotel and unpack, Kyle is furious and worried. “Dad! What the fuck! You can’t cross Indian traffic without keeping your eyes open! What were you thinking? I don’t want to see you get killed!” there was more, of course. More swearing and exasperated annoyance. I have to accept that and evaluate. We book into our hotel and it takes a few moments before I realise how close I had come to actually being being killed or badly injured. Here in rural India! Kyle is right. Was I up to this?
I phone Deb on Whats-app and she is delighted by the unexpected call. We chat about anything but what happened. It is good to hear her voice.
Kyle is still concerned. “Dad! We need to decide if we are going to run with this trip. Do we have the skills? Are we capable? It’s not going to be much fun if only one of us goes home. Just because you used to ride a bike doesn’t mean you can still do it! I don’t want to see you dead, you know!”
I nod and agree, surprisingly unfazed. “Why don’t we just soldier on and see how we go till we get to Jaipur,” I reply. “If we feel we can’t continue, then ship the bikes back and fly home.”
Kyle reluctantly agrees. I can see he’s shaken. We decide we are pushing too hard and perhaps we need to revise our trip objectives downward. After a hot shower and parathas for dinner, we hit the sack, mentally and physically exhausted.
On the Road – Day 3.
This morning we have difficulty paying our accounts as the machine did not accept my card. All part of the joy of travel!
Meanwhile, as Kyle begins to pack the bikes, puppies wrestle with our yoga straps we use to secure my bag. The puppies are surprisingly tough and, as they wrestle, one lays the leg of one of its litter-mates leg open with a wound that could kill it. Dogs have it tough in India. We see so many dogs dead on the road. At one stage we see one chewing the remains of another. At another time, Kyle shakes his head in disgust. “Look at that dirty mongrel bastard, munging on human shit!” Yep – dogs are a sad, sorry breed in India, but because nature is ruthless, they evolve and survive.
We head off, hopeful. But when will I learn? We start the day giving Google Maps another chance as we seek to escape Indore, end up heading in the wrong direction. Instead of heading for Kota in the north, we run east for about an hour. When I check, Kyle has a melt-down and threatens to pull out of the trip. There were a lot of angry things said. Ultimately we head back towards Indore and then turn to Dewas to the north, then many a wrong turn before we follow the right road to Ujjain. Finally we turn northward to Kota. This is not a highway, but we are on a right track. Thankfully, the ride becomes amazing. Sure, it’s rutted and potholed , but sometimes we actually achieve 80kph. We see loads of cows as they lounge on the road, herds of goats, packs of dogs, water buffalo – including one old bull leading his herd up the middle of the road, with a toss of his head refusing to move for any vehicle. There are camels with their heads held arrogantly high and even an elephant that lumbers along, impossibly huge and gaudily painted for the festivities.
There are also crowds and noisy vans that blare out a deafening cacophony of traditional music. Strangely, the only dancers are men and boys, covered as they are with powdered paint.
As we journey, the nature of the people gradually changes to more men with turbans, the women small and covered with shawls as they work the land or drive their beasts. The villagers offer every hospitality – even though they have nothing. A chai and a cut up apple was all they can offer. In return, we take their picture. They simply love selfies!
At one village, as our faces sunburn, I try to find sunscreen, which causes some hilarity as they had no idea what I am talking about. A local dispensary is no help until I point out a small, forgotten container on the shelf. They watch me apply to my face in disbelief.
Yes, we are making good time. Too soon, disaster strikes.
I surge ahead, the way Kyle wants me to. He always urges to go ‘Faster! Faster!’ Sometimes I feel it’s too fast on these crazy roads, that we take too many risks But the roads clear and I am in the lead, there are no little white murder-cars ahead, so off I go! It is five minutes when I look in my review mirror and discover Kyle’s headlight behind me is gone.
I stop, but there is no Kyle. Even after a few minutes increasingly anxious wait. Sometimes we can be held up by traffic, but I think of the bodies scattered on the roads last night, including my own. My wait has been too long. What if he’s down? I ride back, and it is too far. In the end I look for the Rent-a-Crowd that will herald that someone has an accident. I desperately hope that he’s okay, but with every kilometer my fear of a mishap grows. So it with a wave of enormous relief that I finally see Kyle pushing his bike up the road.
I stop and we joke as we try to fix it, but to no avail. He hit a pothole and the bike just died, his battery roasting so hot he burned his leg on the battery cover. We are immediately joined by villagers who try to start the bike. In the end, Kyle pushes his bike up the road as I repack and fish out my phone backup to charge my dead phone so we can communicate with Bushan – the bike owner. By the side of the road, villagers gather around the bike. In the end, assisted by a school English teacher with barely any rudimentary English. There are suggestions – that I tow Kyle with a rope around his handlebars, or that a van tows the bike. We accept these horrible ideas with nods of gratitude and, in the dark for our second night in a row, are grateful when a van finally arrives. Accessing a van is a particularly difficult task as most vans are being used for festivities tonight.
The challenge is to get Kyle’s heavy bike onto the back of the small van. A rickety plank is used, which snaps, causing a rumble of hilarity among the gathered men. Then another plank is selected. Somehow, thanks to the combined muscle of ten or more strong farmers, we manage to load the bike, with Kyle and a few of the farmers. I follow in the dark as we head into the small town of Jalrapatan, frequently stopping to pick up more villagers on the way.
What gentle hospitality! These beautiful fellows help us access a hotel, offload the bike and explain with difficulty that a mechanic will visit us in the morning. Potato parathas for dinner again. The hotel is typically Indian – no toilet paper or shower and as I crouch and dunk to wash off today’s sweat, I can’t help but think of Deb, who has just finished her exciting hike in Italy. With the trials and emotions Kyle and I have experienced in the past 24 hours, I sometimes wish I had gone to Italy too. But no, I have to do this. Kyle and I accept the road for what it is, accept the pace and, most important, enjoy what we see and experience. What is most important is that we are safe. Sometimes the best things are what we see and experience in the small moments.
As John Lennon says so eloquently, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans …” Forget the schedule! When we are 15 days out we will turn around and head back to Mumbai by a different route. We hope to get to Kathmandu, then cut south to Varanasi and back.
If the bikes survive.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
Kyle Shackleford is musician Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.