Summary of India diary entries by Rob Shackleford
Diary Entry 9 – The Bike Dilemma
Read the other India Diary entries:
Start in Mumbai
Up & Down
Into the Desert
North to Rishikesh
Kathmandu and Home
After the events of the Joshimath Road, in Rishikesh Kyle and I are forced to consider the format that our future journey will take. Despite the repeated dangers of the Joshimath Road, it was undoubtedly spectacular and the views sometimes breathtaking. But was it worth risking our lives? We are keen to continue the journey we had planned, but our main issue now is time.
India is a huge country and, coupled with the difficulties on the oft-damaged roads, it has become ever more difficult to plan where we will be each night, to determine how far we will go. This might not seem to be of concern to someone with no time issues, but Kyle has to get back to work soon. To make matters worse, his money is running low. He has to get home and find a new job. We have to make a decision.
We head to the Rishikesh train station where we try to organise the shipping of our Royal Enfield bikes to Mumbai, from where we rented them, so we can simply train it to Varanasi via Delhi. For us to ride to Varanasi will take so many hard, risky days that we would miss the Kathmandu leg of our journey. We really want to visit Nepal.
Too quickly, things at the train station become lost in translation, especially when a guy who can speak English advises us the trains on the day we hope to travel are cancelled. That is too often an occurrence here, but when further inquiry discovers the trains are still running as usual, it highlights how precarious travel in India can be without careful planning. In checking our train tickets to Delhi – our stopover to get to Varanasi – we discover we have one more day in Rishikesh than we thought.
I hate it when you stay in a place for a day longer than you should. But that’s travel.
We head to Ram Jhula and discover an excellent book store by the bridge. It has the largest selection of Yoga books one can imagine. We buy a couple of books, these non-yoga, and see monkeys on the bridge. I buy popcorn to feed them until one aggressive little shit steals the whole bag and flees. With time, we finally relax by the Ganges, at the place we had swum. I found a book that discusses the likelihood of Christ being a Buddhist monk. For some reason I find it fascinating. A young girl bothers us to buy a flower in a leaf bowl to float into the Ganges. There are a lot of these little sellers. She wants 300 rupees. Rather than send her away, I pay her what is a generous rate of 100 rupees, which is about $2.
The phone rings and I have good phone chat through Whats App with Harry, Deb’s son who has just returned from a hike to Base Camp in the Himalayas. He’s a great guy who gets on well with me and Kyle. He wants to find out how things are going on our trip and I spin him a few tall tales.
Kyle and I then sit while an discuss our journey, then our history. It’s a chat we’ve never been able to have. I don’t know why. Life often gets in the way and, now he’s a busy young man, our visits are warm but all too fleeting. We talk about when he was born, about his schooling, his skateboarding, the divorce of his mother and I, and his goals. All good stuff. All, I hope, without a fatherly approach, but rather as a friend. We sit for hours. To me, it’s easily the best part of our entire trip.
A monkey comes up and steals the flower bowl and runs away. It empties the bowl looking for something to eat. Somewhat discouraged, it gives the flowers a nibble before wandering off. Despite the fact they are little shits, we like the monkeys and their antics. I rise and gather the flowers before we send the bowl into the rushing current of the sacred river with our wishes.
We have confirmed our decision. I tell the guys in Mumbai and they are okay. To continue on the bikes would mean we may not see Varanasi and Kathmandu. We have to evaluate why we are doing the trip at all. Yes, it has been a success in every way. We then head back to the shopping area and buy a few gifts for Bree, my daughter and Kyle’s sister who lives in Melbourne. She was to originally join us on this journey. With her limited motorbike skills, we are glad she didn’t.
I have developed a nasty clump of rash on my left inner thigh. no matter what tinea salves are applied, it just seems to get worse It developed as a painful spot when riding and I have so far ignored it, but now it’s making itself known to the extent it is uncomfortable to walk.
The next day we find another place to swim in the Ganges. We identify a place near the Trayambakeshwar Temple where kids jump off cliffs. I originally had the impression that any dip in the sacred river had to be undertaken in a somber and worshipful manner, but local Indians show us otherwise. There, we meet a Russian backpacker who wants a swim but is afraid of jumping off the cliff. She tests the depth of the water near the cliffs and in moments Kyle and I are jumping off while a couple of German backpackers practice parkour nearby. As always, the Ganges is cold and refreshing.
But despite the water’s healing properties advocated by locals, my rash is undoubtedly getting worse.
We head to Lucky the mechanic’s, but the bikes aren’t ready, even though they were promised yesterday. I decide to visit a doctor. Kyle wants a look at the rash and does not like the look of it. I wander into the doctor’s surgery and, here is a rule for foreigners: don’t visit a public doctor in India! This is a land of massive inequality, so the dimly lit waiting room is filled with poor people who are very ill. as we enter, a lady vomits noisily into the open sewer that runs in front of the doctor’s office. I stand there, unsure, as the locals stare at me as if in disbelief. Kyle soon comes in. “Dad! Get the hell out of here! You’ll come away with a lot more than a rash if you stay any longer.” I quickly leave. What was I thinking?
Pharmacists in India are a different to those in Australia. At home they are bound by a list of laws and restrictions a mile long, but in India, not so. They are repositories of drugs and often act as quasi-medics for those in need. As happened to me. When I told him I had a rash, he looked at me with eyebrows raised. “Where?” he asked.
“Um, on my upper, inner thigh,” I replied uncertainly.
He nodded. “Show me!”
I sigh and, looking to the busy street only metres away, dropped my shorts. I have to raise my leg as he bends to look. He nodds as he orders an assistant to select a paste and some drugs. As we leave the pharmacist, Kyle has a look at the drugs. “Dad! These tablets are for genital herpes and hepatitis.”
“Really?” I reply. Nothing surprises me here. “The thing is, that is what the packet says.” I sigh. How did he come to that conclusion? I’ll give the paste a go, but not the tablets.”
I finally I opt to contact home and have Deb talk to her doctor brother in New Zealand. Don’t ask why I had not done that before. Dean suggests not taking the drugs and dosing up on the doxycycline that we have in our first aid kit for the prevention of malaria. As I don’t like taking antibiotics for the long term in favour of keeping a healthy gut, and as Kyle and I have no problems eating street food, I had opted not to take them. But now I have to do something. I listen to Dean’s advice, but use the ointment as well. Yes, my rash is pretty painful. We eventually have to do our own detective work and figure out it’s shingles, that the exotic drugs we threw away would have helped. No matter, it’s feeling better.
We eventually opt to pick up our newly repaired bikes. Despite the extra full day to repair them, it took even more hours of waiting. Lucky said the bikes had been badly worn for a long time and that much of the damage was not ours, that the bikes were well used and poorly maintained. Yep – we had old, worn bikes. in the end it cost over $100 for the two bikes to be fixed – including replacement sprockets, tightened spokes, and much more. By Australian standards it is an amazing deal, though unimaginable for an Indian local. The magic moment finally comes and we ride away. But time presses as we are already overdue for our departure from our accommodation. We decide to take the main driveway to the facility beside here we are staying. We cut through their gate and go to head into ours to save valuable time. That earned the guard to scream at us and. with a wave of his arm, yells at us to go. Kyle is in fine fettle, for our patience has been worn paper-thin. I tried to tell him we are staying here. We certainly didn’t want to waste any more time, but he wouldn’t have any of it. All he saw was a couple of dudes trying for a short cut. I was not going to be put off and just looked at the guard, who yelled at us again. It was the first time we have ever experienced anything like that in India. Fine then. I just park the bike. “No Parking!” he yells as we walk away.
After a quick wash, pack, picture of the young lass at reception and then to the bikes. We have to hurry to Haridwar. To smooth things over with the guard I apologize and I think he realizes he was a bit rash. It’s all about saving face.
The ride to Haridwar is to thrust ourselves back into the maelstrom. It is very bad traffic. the signage is so bad that , half the time unsure I am not sure we are going in the right direction. Kyle and I had words as we loaded our bikes, so I know he’s angry. On the run to the south I see him barely avoid a few cars. The traffic closes in so close that as I stop my bike, someone in a little white car (what else?) runs over my foot. Luckily the tyre is relatively flat, but as it’s the ankle I injured on the Joshimath road, I am aghast. How close do they think they can get? I yelled and the driver and passenger look at me as if it is my fault. Kyle sees them and slams the car with his hand. He is so pissed off. He had nearly hit a cow. The traffic is foolishly aggressive. Yes, we have had enough.
We turn near the great Shiva statue, for our priority is to find the Haridwar Rail Station. It takes a few wrong turns and the map is unhelpful. We end up operating on autopilot and find the freight office half an hour before they close. As I ask to ship the bikes to Mumbai, they call out and wave hands. “Come back tomorrow! Office hours. nine o’clock!”
“We leave tonight!” I reply. I know it is no good acting aggressive. It will be about being nice and grateful.
Kyle was with the packing crews while I tried to get the paperwork pushed through. They do so reluctantly and it costs us, but we eventually have the receipts and the packing completed.
We carry our bike bags, packs and my old bag and try to find a place to wait. We have around six hours. There is one waiting room away from the bulk of passengers, so we wait there. This is where white privilege is used, for none question whether we should be there. We eventually make a few friends and they look after our bags while we head off for some food. We relax, for yes, Indians are wonderful. We wait in the room for a few more hours and then some women stalk in and demand we leave. “Why?” we ask innocently.
“Women’s room!” they exclaim.
“But what about these guys?” I ask, gesturing to other men waiting.
“Women’s room! Leave!” they demand.
We shrug and leave. No worries, there is another room called the men’s room where women wait.
We made friends with a charming young fellow travelling with his brother and sisters. He advises that our ticket is not confirmed, that Kyle and I will have to share a bed, as they call them. To us it more like a thin plank. Apparently one must use the railway app to check and confirm tickets. Not something foreigners will know.
Indian railway stations are crowded. Particularly as Haridwar is the location for pilgrimages, masses sleep here and wait for their trains which, like ours, might leave around midnight. We think that we are better prepared for this trip, for Kyle is wearing jeans and I have unpacked my sleeping bag for him and my pillow for me. But to share a bed? By the time we board it is crazy busy and packed. Yes, one bed. Kyle and I joke about whose feet will be in the other’s face, for there is no way we won’t try to sleep top to toe. We didn’t think our developing father-son relationship would include a night of spooning. somehow I doze off, having balanced on my side while Kyle’s nose if pushed into the train bulkhead. It’s amazing what tiredness will do.
Eventually a guard arrives and advises I can use a spare bunk. Celebration! I take my trusty pillow and sleep. Kyle uses my sleeping bag. His hands are eaten by mosquitoes.
Delhi is the usual maelstrom. We rent a room for much of the day so we can shower and store our gear. we have another train this afternoon. we pack and send the bike keys and jackets. Kyle insisted on Western food, so we eventually found a KFC. Sometimes eating Western fast food in India can be an excellent way of getting food poisoning, but we decided to take the risk. We ended up eating 2 burger meal deals each while the established absolutely rinsed the Black Keys ‘Lonely Boy’ endlessly.
We take a tuktuk to catch our train with plenty of time, but end up going to the wrong strain station. So we get another tuktuk to a station that is a long way off. The traffic is terrible. We have to run, carrying our loaded bags, and me with my swollen, injured ankle. Me miss our train to Varanasi by 8 minutes.
We are so pissed off, we opt to dramatically change our travel strategy. We find an Indian Tourism office and buy a package where we train to Varanasi, fly to the Buddhist centre of Bodh Gaya, and then fly back to Delhi in time to catch flights to Kathmandu. It means another stay overnight, but to hell with it! We’ll be tourists for a change. We share a few beers with the guys from the office in the street outside before we stay in a hotel with real shower.
Tomorrow it’s another train, but this time to Varanasi.
Rob Shackleford is author of Traveller Inceptio, published by British publisher, Austin Macauley.
If you read Traveller Inceptio and like it – please place a review on Amazon and the Austin Macauley site Here
Kyle Shackleford is musician under Milo Hunter Band and a Chef.