The minute I stepped out of the airport in India
was mayhem, bedlam, heat and filth. Nothing in the west had prepared me for the
surreal and bizarre chaos that is New Delhi.
All around me was hustle and noise, and being a westerner I was the target of
As I pushed my way out of the airport the hawkers and touts were unrelenting.
At six feet tall I stood head and shoulders above most of the locals, which made
it difficult to hide in the crowd, especially because I was heaving around a rucksack
the size of a bathtub on my back.
Everyone either owned a hotel or had a brother that owned one and would give me
"very good rate"
"Come to my hotel. I own very fine hotel, cheap, not far"
"Rickshaw? Rickshaw? Where you go?"
"Money change? I make very good rate"
I’m a British guy who had been living in The U.S. for the last 15 years. In my
mid/late 30s. I suddenly got a wild hair to go traveling. For the previous year,
two of my sisters had been planning a round-the-world trip and at the last minute
I decided to join them. This was my first visit to a third world country and little
did I know what was in store.
Kathi and Jaqui had earlier left from England, with our mum, who they had talked
into going on the trip for at least the first month. They had arrived in India
a week ahead of me.
As I looked around in bewilderment I heard a yell above the cacophony. "Steve!"
I turned my head to see two enthusiastic English girls wading through the crowd,
waving and shouting at me.
They found a taxi for us, haggled a price, and we were off. I soon found out that
one always agrees on the fare first and then travel rather than tell the taxi
driver your destination and when you arrive he decides all by himself what the
Dusk was settling over the trash-strewn streets and even in the middle of such
a large city people were lighting small fires in the roadside gutters to prepare
their evening meal. Smoke from the flames, mixed with vehicle exhaust, created
a choking, eerie scene in the fading light. My lungs recoiled in shock at the
temperature of the air they were forced to inhale and my eyes and tongue wanted
to desperately retreat from the stinging fumes.
It appeared that all law and order had broken down and survival was the only goal.
Because I had not seen Mum for such a long time, we had decided to surprise her
with my presence. It was quite late by the time we finally arrived at the hotel
so I was smuggled into a tiny room where I crashed on a bed made of half inch
plywood covered by an inch thick layer of foam.
Exhausted, and in a state of utter confusion and travel fatigue I fell into a
dark, uncomfortable sleep.
I awoke the next morning around 10ish still fatigued and already planning my
India was just too filthy for me.
I must confess that, as I lay on, what for me was like a bed of nails I felt a
strange mixture of exhilaration and horror, exhilaration at being abroad in a
strange new land so deeply drenched in myth and fable and yet, I was horrified
at the reality of the squalor I had witnessed upon arrival.
One of the first and strongest revulsions I experienced was the spit everywhere.
New Delhi-ites chew a tobacco product, and rather than carry a spit cup the way
decent American red-necks do they simply flob this stuff allover; on the sidewalks,
the lamp poles, the parked cars. All the buildings had streaks of reddish brown
spit as high as 5 feet from the ground. It was EVERYWHERE. I even saw some poor
rats with the stuff dripping from their eyebrows. (I might have just made this
last part up about the rats, you decide)
I’m not some kind of prissy clean freak. In fact I’m more than happy to wear the
same shirt four or five days in a row but even for me this coughed up filth everywhere
was a bit of a shocker, and, as it turned out, just the tip of the iceberg.
That first morning I finally slithered out of bed, dressed, and went off to
As I stepped from the gloom of the hotel into the glorious Indian sun, I immediately
felt less depressed. This was my first experience of India in the sunlight and
everything instantly changed. The balcony overlooked a city teeming with life.
Enterprise was at full pelt with taxis honking, buses trundling and cycle rickshaw
riders weaving in and out of the stop-and-go traffic and from this height I couldn’t
see the spit.
Mum was relaxing, reading a book at the top of our hotel in an area that was part
roof and part corridor.
I had to nonchalantly walk past her three times before she finally looked up from
her book, saw me and then immediately carried on reading. My sisters had quietly
sidled up to watch and we looked at each other perplexed.
She probably read a few more lines before her brain quietly told her that her
first born, who was supposed to be in America, was here in India and had just
walked past. She then shrieked out loud, dropped the book, and leaped to her feet.
We were all seriously worried that she might have a heart attack!
Because Mum and the girls had already been in Delhi for a week, we immediately
left for Nepal, high in the Himalayan Mountains between India and China.
I still wanted to return home but I thought, what the heck, I’ve come this far
I might as well stick it out for a while longer.
The train stations in India are like being dropped onto a strange new planet
and trying to make sense of utter insanity! People are everywhere. Whole families
fill almost every inch of floor space. I think it’s where they live.
To reach the booths selling tickets, we climbed a short flight of stone steps,
entered a dark, cavernous room filled with people, crossed to another flight of
steps and ascended into a another large, dimly lit room containing lots of eager
train passengers and a bull.
The ticket office had rows of windows with enormous lines of people in front
of them. They appear to have been waiting days to get a ticket, and may have.
We tried to stand in various lines but everyone kept shaking their heads at us
and pointing further down the row of windows.
Confused, we skirted the bull who was laying down, relaxing in the middle of the
room and went to a booth with no line at all
We soon realized that we kept getting moved from line to line was because there
are different windows to serve different types of people. One, for instance was
just for women. Ours had a sign saying,
"Members of Parliament, Foreign Tourists and Freedom Fighters".
I’m presuming that everyone thought we were freedom fighters.
We found our platform, made a big pile of rucksacks and waited. A cow slowly ambled
down the railway tracks, foraging for what, I have no Idea. Eventually the train
arrived causing everyone on the platform to start shouting and waving at the cow
trying to make it move out of the way. At the very last minute, realizing that
something large was barreling down on it, the cow hopped on to the next track.
Travelers to India who will be using the trains should take a slingshot to
shoot at the rats on the tracks. I’m not saying this facetiously I mean it. The
train won’t be on time and this will occupy your time until it arrives.
Although thinking about it rats are probably sacred or something so it might be
best to ask first.
Our train journey was long. We had booked onto what Indians call the sleeper.
Carriages with hinged wooden arrangements that serve as back rests during the
day and fold down to make bunks at night. There are three to a wall, the top one
is perilously far from the floor but a more difficult climb for cockroaches. I
consider it to be a bit of a stretch calling the train a "sleeper" because
I got no sleep at all! All through the night, the train stopped at different stations
about every 45 minutes and vendors clamber aboard shouting as loud as they could!
The most common item for sale was "Chai". A deliciously sweet cup of
tea often served in small disposable clay pots. It costs about three rupees per
cup and because it was available everywhere we went this makes India, in my opinion
one, of the most civilized place on earth. (That is, apart from all the spitting
and defecating. You’ll read more about this later.)
If you are ever the houseguest of friends that have traveled in India do this.
Get quietly out of bed, one night at about 4:30 am, stand just outside their bedroom
door and start shouting "CHAI, CHAI, CHAI" as LOUD as you can. They’ll
think its funny and thank you for bringing back many happy memories of their Indian
Another common item hawked up and down the carriages of trains are short pencil
length twigs. People were handing over money for these things and so I thought
they must be of some value but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what.
I later saw a man attacking his teeth and gums with one and realized they are
used instead of toothbrushes. He was really giving it beans and seemed to be quite
pleased with the results, giving me a large wide grin displaying his remaining
One thing that we did not realize until half way through our travels, is that
when you book a bunk on a train it is only yours from 9pm until 8am. And so at
8 o’clock in the morning you must fold it up and let others sit down.
We had no idea.
We awoke the next morning at about 11am. The bunks across the centre isle from
us were folded away and about 13 Indians were quietly sitting on a space that
should hold five and staring at us while we slept.
Still not knowing that we no longer had any rights to these bunks we slowly woke
up, collected all our stuff and by about 1pm folded our beds away. Some of the
Indians opposite immediately, and much to our annoyance, switched to our side.
All that time they never said a word. I know I would have. At 8am on the dot,
I’d have been shaking someone shouting, "Hey Buddy, you don’t live here you
There are some stunningly beautiful places in India and then there are places
like Gorakhpur. This was my first real taste of an Indian city other than New
Delhi and although I don’t mean to hurt the civic pride of the residents of Gorakhpur
but it has to be said, the place is a cess pool! Rotting, rat ridden piles of
garbage line the roads much worse than in other towns we visited.
Eventually we left the train and boarded a bus to Sonali on the border of India
and Nepal. This was my first experience on an Indian road and, because I wasn’t
driving, it seemed OK. Very colourful, in fact. We would pass water buffalo shuffling
along the road, piled high with all manor of green stuff from the fields. We saw
a man out for a ride on a small wobbly scooter, taking along his wife, his two
sons, their newborn baby, his mother-in-law and some chickens. This was a common
As we neared the Nepal border the low flat fields gradually gave way to higher
and steeper inclines slowly preparing us for our assent into the highest mountain
range in the world.
Visas for India must be obtained in advance of travel but to enter Nepal they
can be arranged at the border. After all our passports were checked and stamped,
we found a rickety old bus headed to Katmandu, threw our backpacks onto the roof,
and clambered aboard. Now things really start to climb. Up until this point in
my life I hadn’t realized that Kathmandu really existed. It was a kind of mythical
place of legend and song and here I was on a bus going there! Far out (as they
Sitting on a rickety, wobbly old bus, only inches from a thousand foot drop
and speeding round blind hairpin bends on the wrong side of the road is something
I’d never done before. Every curve they come to, there might be five slow moving
trucks crawling up a steep section of road, but our guy would just swing out into
the oncoming lane and crawl past them, gears grinding and the engine whining like
a high pitched gravel train. It might take him a while and he probably encountered
several vehicles coming the other way who had to slam on their brakes and swerve,
but he did it! Instead of being completely terrified, as I should have been, it
was actually quite thrilling. Because our mother has a terrible fear of heights,
we had to go to great lengths to keep our hands clamped firmly over her eyes but
even she seemed quite calm after a while. She reasoned that, these guys do this
all day every day and that we were safe as houses because they know what they
It turns out that this logic is hopelessly mistaken and the girls and I later
learned that buses full of hapless tourists and unfortunate locals regularly plunge
off the side of cliffs but we never let Mum know that!
When I say that drivers go round a blind curve on the wrong side of the road I’m
not just saying that for dramatic effect. They do. At least our drivers did
I think the attitude of everyone on the road is either, "I know it’s my lane
but there is probably someone around that bend coming straight toward me at high
speed so I must be ready", or "I know I’m in the wrong lane but they
can all just GO TO HELL!"
If you plan on going to Nepal someday here is a tip that will stop you from
looking like a complete idiot in front of the locals.
To play a little joke on foreigners who come up from India, everyone in Nepal
has set their clocks forward 15 minutes.
We had been in Nepal for four or five days before we realized this and only then
found out because we were sitting in a bar for about a quarter of an hour waiting
patiently for "Happy Hour" to start not realizing that it actually started
13 minutes ago! My sisters were pissed off knowing they will never be able to
get back that lost 13 minutes!
Once we arrived in Kathmandu we explored the ancient city on cycle rickshaws.
They are great fun to use but here is an interesting tip. It’s very unlikely that
the rickshaw owner will be able to speak English although he won’t let you know
that. You will therefore tell him where you want to go, haggle a price and climb
aboard and all the time he has no clue what you are saying except rupee prices.
"How much to take me to the Freak Street"? I’d ask.
He has no idea where I want to go, only that I want to go somewhere.
"100 Rupees" he’ll reply.
I’d then smile at him trying to give my face an expression that conveys I know
he is trying to pull a fast one and I’m having none of it.
"Oh no, no, no, no," he says "80 Rupees"
We both know that I will end up paying 50 Rupees but there is a certain song and
dance that we both have to perform to get there.
"30 Rupees" I’d say pulling my pockets inside out to show him I have
no money. I would do this completely ignoring the enormous backpack hanging from
my shoulders that looks as though it’s stuffed with cash.
He will shake his head vigorously smiling all the while and say "60 Rupees"
"50 Rupees and that’s my final offer"
"Ah Yes" he’ll say wiggling his head in many directions as he motion’s
toward the seat for me to hop on.
He has no clue as to where he is taking me, but it doesn’t matter, because wherever
it is, he is charging me at least twice what he would charge a local.
As soon as I sit down he’ll start pedaling in the direction he was facing before
I arrived, searching for someone wearing a tie. It is probable that a man wearing
a tie in India or Nepal will be able to speak English.
I presumed, each time he stopped and spoke in Hindi to someone it was a friend
of his and he was asking how they were doing. After pedaling for about a quarter
of a mile and two brief conversations with passersby, he said something to someone
who would then turn to me and ask.
"Where you want to go"?
I happily told him, presuming that he was just making conversation with me. He
then addressed the rickshaw guy who would invariably turn around and pedal back
the way we had come. This is all done so cleverly that for the longest time I
had no idea they could not understand me. I would even make conversation as we
traveled and they were able to answer me in such a way that made me think they
One of the tricks up their sleeve is the head wiggle. Nepalese and Indians
often answer a question with a strange wobbling of the head that looks like both
a shake and a nod at the same time. It’s quite clever because it means they are
able to correctly answer any question I ask of them whether they know what I’m
saying or not.
The two types of rickshaw are the pedal type, which is a bench mounted behind
a single cyclist, and the motorized kind, a small three wheeled machine that tips
over going round corners.
The pedal type is really for two people but can, if you really try, carry three
large westerners and all their luggage with some effort. At slight inclines someone
must get off and push. Timing it just right to climb back on before going down
hill can be tricky but fun.
To be fair though, I tipped the guy well, it can’t be an easy job.
Every time you travel in a motorized rickshaw you’ll think it’s going to tip
over on corners but I actually saw it happen only once.
By now I had traveled many thousands of miles from my home in Michigan and was,
to use a tired and clichéd, but nicely dramatic phrase, at the roof top
of the world.
We had arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city in November, which is the beginning
of the dry season. The sky was a crisp, deep blue with no haze and wonderful visibility.
I climbed to the top of the hotel and out onto the flat parapet to see if I could
see my house. When I left, I had builders coming in to do some work on the driveway
and I was wondering how it was going.
Kathmandu is 4,600 feet above sea level and it lies in a valley with the Himalayan
mountains towering all around it in the distance. Katmandu has packed in more
culture per square foot than almost anywhere else in the world and is actually
comprised of three historic cities, Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. One can be
pretty much be guaranteed that whenever you rattle in to Kathmandu there’ll be
a festival of some sort about to take place.
My sister Kathi then arranged a little surprise. Unbeknownst to us she had
been talking by telephone to our third sister Jenny who lives in Melbourne Australia
and had secretly arranged for her to fly to Katmandu to join us. As we were walking
down one of the cities busy tourist allies, Kath started complaining of an upset
tummy and felt that she should go back to the hotel. This, it turns out, was just
a ruse. As soon as she was out of sight she bolted to the airport, met with Jen,
and then they both dashed back to find us still strolling down the same ally.
It was Mums shrieking that alerted me to Jennies arrival and we all then had to
swear that our fifth and final sibling, our Brother "The Spade" was
not planning on jumping out of the bushes somewhere along the road, waving his
arms shouting "SURPRISE!"
We spent a week or so in Kathmandu and then traveled to Pokhra, nestled alongside
the beautiful Phewa Lake, where we spent a wonderful few days before heading on
to Chitwan forest.
Up to this point I had experienced two major cities, New Delhi and Kathmandu and
I expected Pokhra to be an enormous bustling metropolis but once we got off the
bus, walked to the end of the street and turned left that’s about it. At the time
I remember being quite disappointed thinking "What will there be to do in
this little place?" I’m making Pokhra out to be a smaller city than it really
is having a population of around 180,000 and there was about as much to do there
as I wanted. As I now look back, perhaps my fondest memories of the entire trip
were of breakfast with Mum down by Phewa lake. Each morning we would choose one
of the many shoreline restaurants catering to the numerous trekkers that visited
Pokhra and take our coffee and pastries down to the waters edge.
It was bliss.
All around were majestic views of the Dhaulagiri, Manalsu, Annapurna and Machhapuchhre
Mountains, but unlike New Delhi, and Kathmandu now some 125 miles away, Pokhra
was pollution free. This is a place where soul and spirit will once and for all
decide who’s boss and then for evermore remind me, "I’ve been to the Himalayas!"
Here is an anecdotal example of doing things myself rather than buying a packaged
We were riding on the back of elephants, rhino spotting in The Royal Chitwan national
park, my sisters and mum were on one elephant and I was on another with three
One of the other members of my group was an Australian guy who had heard from
someone else that they only paid $200 US dollars for the same trip from Katmandu
and he was upset because he had paid $250. He asked the person behind me how much
he had paid and got really annoyed when he found out that it was only $185. I’m
glad he didn’t ask me because we had done everything ourselves. We had taken a
rickshaw to the bus station in Katmandu, bought our own tickets to Pokhara and
on to Chitwan. Found our own rooms, paid for our own meals and drinks and went
in search of an elephant owner on our own. Adding in the cost of a return bus
ride to Katmandu we paid about $27 US dollars each!
Five of our most exciting days were spent white water rafting.
At the time I never gave any thought at all to the response I would receive from
people back in the west to the statement "We also went white water rafting
in the Himalayas"
I gotta admit though, It is a heavy duty thing to say.
After about a month wandering the mountain kingdom we made our way back to
Kathmandu where we said goodbye to Mum at the airport and then started heading
downhill to rejoin the rest of the flatlanders and spend Christmas in Goa a small
state on the west coast of India.
Being a tourist, I was a very desirable passenger to any rickshaw driver as
they would try to fleece me something wicked. Because of this every time I left
an airport, bus terminal or railway station I was besieged with rickshaw drivers
offering "Very good rate." It’s annoying to be greatly overcharged,
but I knew that they were overcharging me the equivalent of pack of gum back home.
The main problem is not so much the inflated cost to us, just because we are
westerners, it’s simply being hassled. The girls and I got so sick of it along
with the hellish ordeal of buying a train ticket that we decided to buy motorcycles
and travel under our own steam.
It turns out that there is a Factory in Madras that still makes old English Royal
Enfield motorbikes. They now simply call them Enfields but the only difference
between the bikes today and back in 1958 is that they now have electric indicators.
The decision for me was made after fighting my way out of a railway station in
Lucknow and seeing one of these bikes in the parking lot. It looked like something
a ’50s greaser had just parked to go into a milk bar somewhere. I had to have
Luckily both Kathy and Jaqui were up for the Idea, and so went in search of a
dealer. Our hopes were somewhat dashed when the pleasant Indian Enfield dealer
in Jaipur informed us, that there was a three-month waiting list for a new bike
and that we would have to buy second hand machines. The name of the dealership
was, I swear "Swastika Automobiles." Their logo was two large red swastikas
painted on the outside of the store. I almost expected to see Hitler goose stepping
angrily through their door pissed off because he couldn’t buy a new Enfield.
If my understanding is correct, the swastika was originally an ancient mark
of good luck used by Hindus, Buddhists and many other religions and cultures and
that Hitler chose it because of it’s popularity and, as we know, turned it into
the most vilified symbol on the planet. It’s a shame.
We were still besotted with the idea of Enfields and later that day, as luck
would have it, we met a couple of westerners on Enfields who told us "Naw,
the best place to buy Enfields is in Karol Bagh in New Delhi. You can get new
ones straight away there."
We were off.
I bought a new 500cc Bullet Machismo out of the showroom and my sisters each bought
used 350cc Bullets from Arun Maddan at Maddan Motors and Lally Singh.
We had them fitted with panniers and racks for our luggage and had the long bench
seats replaced with single sport seats. They just look cooler. I had the stock
handlebars replaced with wider ones for no reason other than I wanted to.
Brand new Enfields are available in America and cost between $3,800 and $4,200.
In India the base price of my bike was about $1,350 and even after all the extras
I still had only paid $1,600. I had to get a document from the British embassy
stating that they didn’t have a problem with me buying a motorcycle and then present
this to the dealership.
The first night with the new Enfield I learned the single most important lesson
AT NIGHT, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR BIKE OUTSIDE ON THE STREET.
We were staying in a cheap hotel just off Paharganj in New Delhi and as I approached
my brand new bike the next morning I immediately could tell that something was
not right. My heart sank as I saw that the battery had been cut out and was gone.
Ragged, ripped wires hung under the seat like a metallic open wound. I was very
angry and cursed the thief using every foul, unpleasant word that I could think
of or make up but the truth is he (she?) did me a great favour. They only took
the battery which cost me $20 to replace. They could have very easily stolen the
entire bike which would have been a crushing blow. In hindsight, it cost us $20
to learn that we only stay in hotels with courtyards from now on. Every time we
rolled into a new town, filthy and exhausted from a hard days ride we would search
for the cheapest hotel with an area suitable to store three Enfields overnight.
Kathi had never even sat on a motorcycle before let alone tried to ride one. Arun
lent her a used bike to learn on while hers was being readied for our trip. She
spent an afternoon training herself by riding around and around the very busy
roundabout of Connaught place in the middle of New Delhi!.
Keeping our clothes clean during our travels was a fairly simple procedure
but there are risks. Most of the hotels in which we stayed have an arrangement
with a local, who, for a small fee, would take our clothes down to the river and
give them a good thrashing on some rocks. What they will do however is to mark
each item with a waterproof pen of some sort so that they know whose clothes belong
On one occasion I dropped all my laundry off at a store front location in New
Delhi and when I returned to collect my now clean clothes the next day everything
was fine except for one white shirt. It was a brand new white shirt that I had
bought just for this trip.
Everything had the now customary mark which, for this store, was a big blue dot
However, for some reason, on this particular item of clothing, the person doing
the work had put the symbol in the middle of the top of the back on the inside
of the shirt where the material is doubled up, which, on a white shirt, had of
course bled all the way through. I now had a beautifully laundered bright white
shirt with a big blue blotch the size of a quarter right in the middle of the
I’m kind of ashamed of it now, but at that time, still being held hostage by my
preconceived western ways of thinking I "threw a wobbler." Instead of
shaking my head, muttering "India, what ya gonna do" I got angry and
demanded that they fix it.
The shirt now looked absurd!
They took the garment back, not really understanding why I was not happy, but
they could tell by my hissy fit that I was not pleased and so they agreed to remove
Whoever had given the instructions to the actual person down at the river must
have said "get rid of this blue stain NO MATTER WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO"
because, even when the material started to tear they did not stop scrubbing. The
next day I was presented with, again a beautifully clean shirt but this time it
had an enormous ragged hole in it as though it had been shot at point blank range
with a shotgun.
Now here is where I got really stupid. Instead of thanking the store owner, taking
the shirt back to America and wearing it like a badge, a souvenir of the madness
of the third world, with lots of shouting and yelling I handed it back to him
and demanded that when I returned the following day it be fixed.
Because something like this would simply not happen in the west I thought I was
being singled out and they were purposely trying to make me look like a fool.
That night my sisters calmed me down and in not so many words made me realize
that it was in fact me that was making myself look like a fool, and we were in
India now where things were different and that I needed to grow up and "go
with the flow."
I entered the store with some trepidation the following day but low and behold
they handed me my shirt with no spot and no shotgun blast. It was perfect. They
had repaired it so cleverly and with such accurately matching material that I
was actually amazed. I really couldn’t believe that whoever did the repair had
found such an exactly matching piece of white cloth until the next time I tried
to wear it and found that the tail was missing and the back would no longer tuck
into my trousers.
One incident that I am proud of, however, happened on the train from New Delhi
to Bombay. We had decided that with Kathy’s inexperience on a motorcycle it would
be best to avoid the very busy roads of the capital city and leave Delhi by train
and so after an enormous amount of hassle, baksheesh and swearing, we finally
had the bikes drained, wrapped and loaded, along with us, on the sleeper train
to Bombay. As dusk fell I was having a hard time reading. When we went round a
bend I could see that all the other carriages had their lights on except ours.
I fought my way to the end of our carriage to where a large crowd was gathered.
It seems that the knob for the light switch had broken off and the conductor and
a few others were trying to twist the remaining piece of metal with their fingers.
Just before leaving America I had bought a few things from an outdoor shop, and
a penknife that was also a pair of pliers had caught my eye. I couldn’t imagine
when I might need such a thing but being a guy was all the reason necessary and
so I bought it. Here was my great moment. I found the penknife and reached among
the throng, gripped the metal stub of the switch and with one easy twist all the
lights in the carriage snapped on. I think at that moment I justified every guy
and his love of gadgets.
I was the hero of our carriage and the group of men that had been struggling with
the switch all wanted to see my knife so that they could marvel.
The conductor then did a strange thing. He opened one of the blades, a serrated
one that was as sharp as could be, and to test its sharpness he cut into his thumb.
I don’t think he expected it to do much damage and so was quite startled when
it cut deep! I expected the worst, and was sure he would start shouting at me
and have the three of us thrown from the moving train, but instead he started
showing his thumb around as everyone "ooooed and aahhed"
We finally arrived in Mumbai (Bombay) quite late at night exhausted and just
wanted to find a hotel in which to crash.
Even at this late stage into our travels I was still living with a foolish western
mind set and was presuming that because we had bought tickets to Bombay and had
paid for our bikes to go to Bombay we would all go to Bombay. Apparently, at this
time of night there was no one at the station able to unload the carriage containing
the Enfields and that in a half an hour the train was leaving with our motorcycles
I then simply snapped and turned into the cliché of the typical, pompous,
overbearing English man and started ordering people about as though India was
still a British colony and I was in charge.
"You there, open up this carriage door and look lively," I shouted to
some poor Indian who happened to be walking past. I was tired, hungry and not
about to loose three, perfectly good motorcycles.
"Don’t give me that head wobble thing," I yelled. "Get a key and
let’s get this door open!"
I’m not especially proud of how I behaved, but it did get the job done. I wouldn’t
act this way to border guards of course, but, in desperate situations, to station
porters and the police it seemed to work.
We finally got a team of guys to empty most of the contents of the carriage onto
the platform and dig out our bikes from deep within.
We still had to unwrap them and fill them with oil and petrol and after all this
was accomplished mine wouldn’t start!
Brand new and it wouldn’t start!
There is a definite knack to starting an Enfield Bullet that can take a while
to master. You have to slowly, pretend to start it, holding open the decompression
lever, moving the piston to top dead centre and just when it thinks you’re simply
an idiot you let go the decompression lever, quickly thrust down on kick pedal
and startle it into firing up.
I thought that I had mastered this technique but obviously stress, hunger and
exhaustion caused me to lose it. A large crowd had by now gathered, even, at this
time of night and all stood silently watching my futile attempt after attempt
to start my bike. I could tell that my two sisters were near quiet hysteria and
we all just wanted to get going. It was after about 20 minutes of fruitless struggling
that I learned another valuable lesson that is worth remembering on any trip to
India. If a teenage boy approaches, wanting to help out, let him. You’ll definitely
end up looking like a horse’s ass when he starts your bike on the second kick
but at that point who the hell cares?
The truth is, nearly every Indian we met sincerely wanted to help us any way
they could. Apart from those whose livelihood is dependant upon fleecing foreign
tourists, Indians would consistently lend us a helping hand when obviously needed.
This is just one of the many nice things about Indians but, could, at times, be
a double edged sword.
Out in the countryside sign posts were few and far between and we would often
ask for directions. Having probably never left their village and not wanting to
let us down by telling us that they were sorry but they did not know the answer
to our question, they would make something up.
I’d ask, "Excuse me, which is the road to suchandsuch?" pointing to
a junction in front of us with two roads heading in opposite directions.
I’d get the ambiguous head wobble in reply.
"So that’s the road," I’d say with my finger indicating east.
The head wobble again but this time it looked more like a "No" answer.
I would shift my finger to point west and say, "That’s the correct road then
Exact same head wobble.
Showing them the map did not help either because they had probably never seen
one before, and so it just looked like nonsense to them. Finally, just wanting
to please us, they would make a decision and show us which road to take and there
was a 50-50 chance they were correct.
If I had flown first into Bombay and it had been my initial experience of India
I would have thought that it was completely filthy and grimy but because I had
already been to New Delhi, Bombay struck me as being quite nice.
Leaving the angry, swirling, hornets nest of traffic in Bombay was a horror
but we made it.
At one point during our exit, I was riding "rocking chair" which is
in the middle of the three bikes. Kathi was 50 feet in front of me and Jaqui was
somewhere behind. I was feeling very much the protective big brother and as I
watched, two buses ahead of me started closing in on either side of Kathi, their
drivers showing no concern that they were about to sandwich a girl on a motorcycle.
Just when my panic at what I was witnessing reached fever pitch both the buses
broke away and headed in different directions leaving Kathi wobbly but safe. I
didn’t find out until we were done riding for the day that the buses had both
hit Kath’s handle bars at the same instant and lifted her front wheel off the
ground for a few feet!
The next week was spent in a wonderful, leisurely ride down the western side
of India catching occasional glimpses of the Arabian sea far off to our right
and finally rolling into Goa as high on life as one can get.
Sometimes I think I must be the stupidest man in the whole world!
Kathi and Jaqui had been talking about spending Christmas in Goa since we started
upon our journey and all the time I thought Goa was just a town not realizing
that it was an area of some 3,702 sq KM. It seemed that every westerner we met
was heading to Goa for the yuletide season and I was getting really worried thinking
that if we didn’t get a move on all the hotels would be full.
Very similar to the birth of Jesus story except that none of us were virgins.
Having our own transport during our time in Goa was vital. If you go there
the first thing you should do is find a motorbike or scooter rental place and
get yourself fixed up.
One person that we would definitely recommend is Mahesh Phuja. He lives at the
other end of India in Manipal but comes to Goa for Christmas to rent and fix Enfields
Sunbathing on the beach in Goa can rather be exciting. I was lying there one
time with my eyes closed softly baking in the hot sun when a shadow fell across
my face. I slowly opened my eyes to see a Bull the size of a Chevy less than a
foot away, horns like bayonets. I quietly gathered my towel and lotion and moved
further down the beach, not so much out of fear, (although that does play a part)
but more because I didn’t want to be shit on! I would instantly have become a
laughing stock amongst all the other foreigners becoming known as "The guy
who got shit on" thus making it much harder to pick up girls.
Bulls, like cows, are of course sacred in India, and they pretty much do as
they please. Every Wednesday in Anjuna, there was a flea market. It was held down
by the beach. The makeshift stalls covered about an acre and left walkways between
the rows of vendors just wide enough for two people to squeeze by. Bulls would
often wander down the narrow isles and everyone just moved out of their way. One
of the Wednesdays that I didn’t go, two huge bulls got into a nasty argument over
a female. It was like a rodeo, apparently with the two bulls charging each other,
locking horns and leaping over and smashing everything. When it was over the Indian
stall owners just dusted off their wares and carried on as though it was normal.
On any trip to India, excreta, in all its various forms, will play a major
part. There’ll be your own panic when you have your first case of "Delhi
Belly". You’ll enter into denial when someone informs you that what you just
ate was cooked using cow shit and you’ll gasp in utter shock the first time someone
has a crap on a street corner next to you. To anyone from the west it is a most
sacred and understood right that we enter alone, into a small room built solely
for the purpose of hiding us while performing the most basic of all natures functions.
Not in India.
The unused land alongside the railway tracks does the job.
Whereas in the west one would be mortified if the bathroom door accidentally opened,
it doesn’t seem to faze Indians one bit that 600 people on a passing train all
know that they had corn for lunch.
Maybe we should learn to lighten up a bit!
Indians, like a lot of the third world, have no need for toilet paper, preferring
to simply use their left hand instead so it’s only sold where tourists can be
found. I would buy three or four rolls at a time and always, always, always carried
a roll in my day bag!
I don’t think that the smiling storeowners who sell the strange round rolls
of paper have any idea what we do with it, and I think its best we don’t tell
They do not use utensils when eating and only eat with their right hand, their
left hand being used instead of toilet paper. One thing that, thankfully, I didn’t
think of until after my return to the West was this.
Because of using their hand in the bathroom as they do, Indians therefore consider
their left hand as "Dirty" and so I am presuming that all the cooks
in all the restaurants in which I ate, prepared my food by cleverly only using
their Right hand. I mean after all, If they will not use their own left hand to
eat I’m sure they wouldn’t use it to make my sandwich!
Oh yes and get used to people clearing their throat in a very loud way. I have
always tried to avoid coughing up flem in public but Indians seem to use it as
a form of greeting.
This is a test to see if you have read this far. If you have then send me
an email with the code word "Backpack with Jack" in the subject line. shb @
Christmas in Goa was fantastic but one can only take so much frolicking so
during the second or third week of January we loaded up the Enfields, lashed down
the extra fuel container and headed south and east.
We continued our India trip through Udupi, Mysore, Bangalore, Manipal and on
to Chennai (Madras) where we had two of the bikes shipped back to the west and
sold the third to a couple of travelers heading in the opposite direction.
While in Madras, I visited the Enfield Factory from where all the bikes are made.
It’s just like I would have expected a factory in 1940s or 50s England to be.
After India we flew to Sri Lanka then on to Thailand, then overland to Malaysia
and Singapore I left the girls then and flew to Australia for a month and then
back to America.
- Author: Steve Braithwaite
- From: UK / USA
- Website: hotrodhighway.com
- E-mail: shb @ bigfoot.com
I’m a British ex-pat who’s been living in America for the past 18 years.
I am a radio DJ with a current case of severe wanderlust.
I fly light aircraft, I’m having a 1951 Mercury built by Gene Winfield in California
I’m the brother to someone who’ll be a famous author someday.
My personal credo has always been
“This is your life, it’s not a rehearsal, so enjoy it cuz you’re a long time
I do not intend to lead a life of quiet desperation nor do I want to look back
and wish that I’d lived life to the fullest.
Like most men I see myself as an “Alpha” male but in reality I’m probably
only an A- or maybe even a B or B+
As you can tell I try not to take myself too seriously.
This is my account of a trip I took with two of my sisters and our mum across
parts of Asia.