Published: August 16th 2007July 8th 2007
Problems with Travelblog
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Horror stories, robbery and poisonings
I'd heard so many horror stories of people being robbed, poisoned and generally hassled in India that I was a bit nervous about stopping anywhere. The first couple of places I stopped, I didn't linger, but eventually, fatigue and hunger got the better of me and I started to relax. I needn't have worried. Usually a stop would pan out like this. Firstly, I'd park up and wander over to a shop to buy some water or samosas, or both if I was feeling flash. After a couple of swigs or chomps, someone would find a chair for me and ask me to sit down. A few minutes later, a friendly crowd would gather round and start asking me questions, usually starting with "Where is your from?". I'd tell them my from is in England, get my camera out and then they'd all want a photograph taken and there'd be lots of laughter and monkeying around. When I made moves to leave I'd have to shake everyone's hand and they'd all wave as I hit the road again. What a welcome! I was falling in love with India. I guess that the towns I stopped in don't get many visitors, especially Europeans, as the few people that cross into India from Nepal are usually on a bus and don't stop until they reach Delhi or somewhere.
Switzerland in India
My first overnight stop in India was in Nainital. It's a remarkable place; a piece of Switzerland in the foothills of the Indian Himalaya and more importantly a great place to cool off. The road that snaked it's way up to hill station and the immaculate tarmac was wonderful to ride on. I put one foot up on the crash bar and sat back on the Bullet's comfortable seat to enjoy the view.
Where do they learn do drive?
The only problem with Nainital at this time of year was that everyone else thinks it's a good place to be to cool off and the town was full of heat-refugees from Delhi and the Punjab. As an aside, neither of these groups have the first clue about driving round hairpin corners. Instead of slowing down before they go into the turn, they slam on the anchors half way round when they are suddenly reminded why these corners are called "hairpin" or that there's something coming the other way, or both. Once you know to keep your distance, it's very amusing to watch, but not much fun for the passengers, several of whom I saw throw-up out of the back windows of the ubiquitous (I think that means that they're everywhere) Scorpio four-by-fours.
Anyway, I first tried to stay at the Snow View hotel, an old house from the days of the Raj. The manager was very friendly and couldn't wait to tell me the history of the place, but sadly they didn't have a room. Being British doesn't cut much ice any more so I refrained from suggesting he kicked someone out. He did offer me a drink however, but "beer was finished". "How about something to eat?" he asked; I could choose anything off the menu. The vegetable thali I wanted wasn't available either. It wasn't my day. Things started to look up when the manager called a friend at another hotel where they had a room and said that one of his staff would accompany me to the hotel Shela as it was difficult to find. What I didn't realise then was that the last two statements bore no relationship to each other.
Outside, instead of accompanying me, the member of staff pointed down the hill and said "Hotel Shela, down there." Thanks mate, excellent directions! Half an hour later of stopping every couple of hundred yards to ask for more directions I arrived at the Hotel Shela where the manager had no recollection of the conversation with his good friend at Snow View. He didn't know anyone who worked there, either. This would never have happend during the Raj!
Not looking too hot
As I mulled over which one of the two managers was the imposter, I checked in to the most expensive place in town and, after undoing the almost impossible knot of bungy cord that held my luggage onto the bike, black-faced from the road dust and fumes, I settled down for a well-earned beer. "Are you staying here?", asked an incredulous barman. Hmm, perhaps a shower first would have been a good idea.
Big breakfast, no money and a diversion.
The next morning, after eating as much as I possibly could at the breakfast buffet, I set off for the yoga mecca of Rishikesh. It was only after the petrol attendant had filled my tank and refused to accept my money that I realised the buffoon at the bank in Mahendra Nagar had given me an envelope full of Nepali Rupees, useless in India. Useless anywhere outside of Nepal, in fact, you can't even change them. I suppose I could have checked what the clerk had given me in the bank, but I didn't want him to think I didn't trust him. After a little explaining, the nice man at the petrol station let me pay twice as much as I should for the petrol and I headed on my way. I was in rural India with no money. What would become of me?
A little further along the road was blocked by a truck on a bridge with a broken axle. "It'll take about four hours to fix.", said one of the police men. I thought four days were more likely, looking at the state of both the truck and the bloke trying to fix it. Luckily, a lad on a scooter offered to show me an alternative route. Riding a little too close for comfort next to me, I warned him that he was putting us both in danger."No problem, I very good rider, professional.", he assured me. The next time I turned to my right to guauge the distance between us, he'd disappeared. I turned round to see him struggling to get his scooter out of the roadside hedge. "Very professional", I chuckled. However, he did know his way round and eventually the muddy lane wound its way through some very rustic looking villages and back onto the main highway.
Rishikesh fly convention.
After a long day on the bike and a sweaty few moments in Kashipur where the manager of a bank told me no ATM in India would accept my card, except maybe for the one in Nainital (fortunately the ATM down the road from his bank did!), I eventually arrived in Rishikesh. It's a nice place, although I've never seen so many flies or cow dung in my life, but then I grew up in a city and not on a farm. I didn't fancy joining an ashram with a dodgy baba so I stayed in the Tapovan hotel which has great views of the surrounding hills, aircon and the best restaurant in town. I spent a couple of very enjoyable days eating some of the most delicious Indian food I've ever had, which was a real treat after the austerity of Nepal The rest of the time I spent relaxing, watching other travellers noodle about the town, fending off the, rather too tactile for my liking, monkeys from the relative comfort of a fly-filled coffee bar.
Hide and seikh
Inevitably, I got food poisoning or Giardia again (well, I had been well for almost a day) and decided to leave Rishikesh to the more spiritually inclined and constitutionally stronger travellers. I made it as far as Mussoorie, a kind of Brighton or Blackpool of the hills, full of tacky tourist shops and Indian tourists. On the way, I had a quiet word with an enormous Seikh who cut me up something rotten on one of the corners. I didn't realise he was so big when he was sitting behing the wheel of his minivan. Anyway, as he got out of his vehicle, it soon became clear that he'd had right of way after all and I continued on my way as quickly as I could.
The Tom Tits, rain and hand-holding seikhs.
During my few days incarceration in Mussoorie due to illness and the incessant rain I met some more Seikhs. These lads were very friendly and we had quite a laugh. One of them insisted on holding my hand as we walked round the shops and video game arcades admiring the Indian totty. It was a bit weird to say the least, but apparently quite normal in India. At least that's what he told me.
Petrol, moustaches and a hundred weight of potatoes.
The morning I was set to leave there was petrol pouring out of the bike's carburretor. Surprisingly, I found a mechanic in a few minutes who very quickly and cheaply sorted out the problem and showed me how to fix it if it happens again. I was soon on my way again after an excellent send-off, consisting of more waving that I've seen three people do for a long time, from an old Indian couple and the quite short but very moustachioed waiter (I'm sure it was one of his moustache hairs that found its way into my scrambled eggs) of the Broadway Hotel, where, incidentally, the large Seikh was staying too! I headed towards a non-descript town of Nahan and after another long day in the saddle checked into the City Heart Hotel. Outside my room, for some reason, was about a hundred weight of potatoes. The shower was cold, the aircon didn't work and I locked my keys in the room. The guys were very helpful and although it's probably the worst hotel I've stayed in, I'll definitely go back for the comedy value.
The next morning I went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The waiter offered me some "butter toast". Fantastic, I thought. "Yes, butter toast, please." To which he replied, "Bread butter bread?" I said I'd prefer "butter toast". "Butter toast", the waiter confirmed, then said "bread butter bread?" again. This went on for about five minutes so, not really knowing how to progress to the next stage of the toast preparation process, I told the waiter I was sorry, but I wasn't hungry any more and went to get my breakfast elsewhere.
On the road again I spent a night at Tattapani hot springs in a much cheaper, less pretentious and thankfully fully-working guest house. Well, there wasn't much to go wrong as there was no fan, no aircon, no potatoes and the doors were secured with a padlock. Oh yes, but the toilet didn't flush. Anway, before having a warm bath in the spring water, I saw a "burial". I can't remember what the proper name for this is, but they basically burnt a dead body on a bonfire on the river bank, walked round it a bit and then swept the remains into the river. Less of a burial, then, more of a cremation/submerging. Strangely, there were only men present at the ceremony.
Losing control on the way to the Dalai Lama's birthday bash.
Then it was on to Rewalsar, a buddhist community set round a lake. Rewalsar is a beautiful place and the twisty roads leading up to it are fantastic on a motorbike. Well, for the most part. Somewhere along the way, I had my first crash. A small landslide jumped out at me and I lost control of the beast in deep mud. Luckily there was no damage to either me or the bike, and once I'd stopped laughing the conveniently placed group of school lads helped me get the machine back onto two wheels. Another rider crashed right behind me seconds later. Both the driver and passenger were in remarkably good spirits, which may explain their crash, and we rode together for a few kilometres. I lost them for a bit, and then they caught me up again to tell me I was going in the wrong direction. Incredibly, they were right! I'd missed the turning to Rewalsar.
With no further mishaps I navigated my way round Mandi's confusing one-way system and along the beautiful 30 kilometres to Rewalsar. While there, I ate a couple of times in a Tibetan restaurant run by a very friendly couple. Apart from the excellent food there was a very entertaining little lad, the owners' nephew, of about six years old there who'd throw banana skins at passing motorists. I had a great time in Rewalsar, enjoying the calming atmosphere of the monastaries, watching some rowdy, inter-monastary football matches and listening to the Tibetan karaoke without backing music to celebrate the Dalai Lama's birthday. I also took the opportunity for a blissfull ride up some mountain roads on the Bullet without a crash helmet or luggage. The day after the Tibetan leader's birthday, I made my way to Manali.