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Published: February 28th 2011
-Total Distance: 2700km
-Longest Day: Day 9, Udaipur to Jodhpur at 12 hours
-Falls: 1 on gravel(day 9), 1 on sand(day 14)
-Punctures: 1 on Day 9 (overtaking a big truck)
-Close Calls: every second day
-Closest Call: Day 14, Rich getting run off the road by a tractor at about 50kmph (still don’t know how he kept it together, on what was essentially rubble, and didn’t crash)
-Engines damaged: mine on day 12, Richies’ on day 15 lol (Piston knocking)
-Cows seen on road: circa 5000
-Most common hazards: Merging traffic, camels, roundabouts(they’re a hoot), cows, local busses, dogs, local busses, bricks, local busses, gravel, local busses, potholes, LOCAL BUSSES
-Traffic Police: none seen in 15 days outside Delhi
-Worst roads: Day 15
-Most dangerous traffic: Day 15
-Did I mention day 15 was a shitty day?
The moment our train arrived in Delhi, we were on the hunt for motorbikes. After our experience in Varanasi we were a bit disheartened, but hoped that we could convince someone to rent us some bikes. The
plan: a 2 week round house trip from Delhi around Rajasthan’s best cities. The result: probably the most memorable 2 weeks of my entire life.
The second bike shop we went to seemed willing to rent us some bikes; we were stoked! Initially we wanted to rent Royal Enfield Bullets, but after reading a lot about reliability issues and fuel consumption we decided on lower power more reliable Indian bikes. Speed was not our concern; stopping power and reparability were the essentials. My steed: Bajaj Pulsar 150cc. Richards steed: Hero Honda Hunk 150cc. Essentially city commuter bikes, but they seemed perfect(well…) for the kind of driving we wanted to do, although num-bum settles in after about an hour and a half straight riding. We didn’t know what to expect out of the roads ahead, and even though it looked liked we’d mostly be on national highways, we’d read that a lot of these are not kept in the best of shape. Plus there’d be a couple of million Indians driving around the place.
Now I would definitely not suggest this trip for someone new to biking. We knew it was a dangerous trip, but
we took steps to make it as reasonably safe as possible. We got span new helmets, leather jackets, and had tough boots on. Richard has a solid 9 years driving under his belt on a variety of bikes, and I have 6 years on scooters, bikes and cars. We needed every little shred of experience to come out of this laughing, defensive riding all the way with awareness on 110%! (MISSING)We tried to leave big cities early in the morning (around 6-7am), when most of the looneys were still sleeping, and this allowed us a few hours to get away from heavy traffic. We inevitably ended up arriving midday in busy cities, but we’re fully switched on by then.
Day 1: Delhi to Agra
We started out early in the morning with nothing but 2 plastic bags of belongings to fit into our roughly fitted bikes panniers. We’d leave the rest of our stuff in Delhi and collect it on our return. It was cold and crisp, pitch black, and everyone seemed to be asleep. Perfect. We warmed up the engines, and cruised out of Paharganj in the direction of the Railway station. As soon
as we turned the corner onto the main street we could see that the place was mobbed (Feck), despite it being 6am and prayed it was just the railway station was busy. Luckily it was, and once out of Connaught Place it got pretty quite. We flew past India gate and headed south. We were out of the city unphased…so far so good!
Look Before You Leap
The road between Delhi and Agra, to our genuine surprise, was almost dual carriageway standard once out of the city. Easy Peasy. About 2 hours into our drive we were cruising along at about 80kmph happy with our progress, when in front of us one truck tried to overtake another. No problems, sure we’ll just slow down while the truck slowly pulls passed. While we’re waiting another bike comes up fast and impatiently goes to undertake the two trucks in the hard shoulder.
What he didn’t see (and didn’t bother to check) was that a car was using our hard shoulder, driving the wrong way (common place over here, they regularly drive the wrong direction in your lane) and he had already pulled out at
high speed into the lane. With nowhere to go he had to veer off onto a dusty field at about 80kmph, and was promptly clotheslined by a tree branch. Ooof. I remember just seeing a big cloud of dust, the bike flipping all over the place, and the driver, who of course wasn’t wearing a helmet, doing cartwheel tumbles along the ground. He surpisingly was starting to get up once he had stopped tumbling and seemed allright, but his passenger was out cold in a very awkward ‘my arm and leg is broken’ kind of pose.
We were a bit rattled, and pulled in a bit up the road. Knowing it wasn’t safe to stop in the hard shoulder we agreed to just continue on as there was nothing we could do for these guys and we could see a few cars had stopped to help. What was annoying was that the accident was completely avoidable, by driving the right way, or not undertaking. Idiots.
Shortly afterward a fantastically white Taj Mahal-like temple, called Jaigurudev loomed into view and we pulled over to have a visit. It was a religion I
hadn’t heard of before. They made a point about everything being free, and accepted no donations from people outside the faith. A friendly man brought us around the temple and showed us the weirdly colourful underground shrines, where he lay on the ground face first for a quick pray. Being able to stop where we wanted was the best advantage of driving on bikes.
About an hour from Agra, whilst cruising along the highway overtaking a truck, I noticed something coming towards us in our fast lane. Not sure what it was I slowed down and was most surprised to see a camel and cart trudging slowly along IN OUR FAST LANE! The camel driver could not possibly have been in a more dangerous lane, and why he didn’t go in the road just a few metres away going the right direction I don’t know. A serious lack of road safety knowledge exists here among the masses. For some reason aswell the big slow heavy trucks tend to use the fast lane as their slow lane most of time, so you’re forced to undertake big trucks that can change lanes to undertake slower
trucks at any moment. Interesting, and it wouldn’t be so bad if all the trucks did the same thing…but about 20%!u(MISSING)se the slow lane as they should be. So you’re alternately undertaking and overtaking, not knowing what side someone could try to overtake you on…110%!a(MISSING)wareness.
We arrived in Agra around midday after about 5 hours, averaging about 50kmph, but more importantly without having any close calls. The plan was to relax the rest of the day, but we soon learned that the Taj Mahal would be closed tomorrow (it’s closed every Friday?) so had to go after lunch.
It’s not every day you get to see a world wonder, so we were understandably excited, getting dressed up in our fineries (with 1 plastic bag of clothes, fineries were hard to come by hehe). Nothing can be said about the Taj Mahal that hasn’t been said already. Its magnificent symmetry stands as the ultimate monument to love, built by the great Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, as a mausoleum for his third wife Mumtaz. We decided to get a guide aswell, to make the most of our visit. He was
excellent and was our personal photographer aswell (worth the money for the photos alone).
We learned that the 4 elegant, towering minarets are built at a slight angle for two reasons. One, if they were built at 90 degrees they would appear to be slanting towards the centre, and Two, if an earthquake hit the area, the towers would collapse away from the centre. The building is built from a beautiful white marble that shimmers in the light, and seems to hang like a surreal mirage in the evening sun. Intricate patterns of flowers inlaid with precious stones lye inside the building, and elegant carvings of the Qur’an line the doorway arches. The centerpiece of the whole complex is the large white dome of the mausoleum, immense yet delicate, which is topped by a gilded finial with a moon at its tip (Islamic motif) whose horns point towards heaven. The horns of the moon and the tip of the finial combine to make a symbol reminiscent of the Shiva’s trident (Hindi motif). This mix of Indian and Islamic imagery is evident throughout the complex.
We stayed here for nearly 4 hours, people watching and
admiring the great building from all angles. Did you know that Shah Jahan also wanted to create another identical mausoleum made of black marble on the opposite river bank? That would have been awesome.
Day 2: Agra Fort
Slightly over shadowed by its nearby, pretty, white cousin stands the most important Mughal fort in India. The greatest Mughal leaders lived here, and governed the country from behind its huge, red sandstone walls. Emperor Akbar mostly built the red fort, but his grandson Shah Jahan made the finishing touches. Ironically Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort by his son, later on in his life…
This badass 94 acre fort has immense walls over 70 feet high, with a moat surrounding it and massive circular bastions at regular intervals to fight off attackers. The Mughals had an amazing talent for designing formidable buildings with beautiful mathematical precision, and on the inside they would carve beautiful geometric patterns and arches to please the eye. We enjoyed touring around the fort for about 2-3 hours by ourselves, before being set upon by crazed sellers when we came outside. I was bursting laughing when Rich was
asking one whip seller what possible use he could have for a whip.
Whip Seller, “Very power friend (whip whip)… look friend (whip whip)”.
Rich, “But why would I need a whip”
Whip Seller, “For whipping (whip whip)… look friend (whip whip)”
Richard’s tactic is the bore the seller into submission with logic and reason. It takes a while I can tell you, as any form of conversation is seen as a lead:-)
Day 3: Agra to Jaipur
We left very early in the morning once again to beat the traffic. One drawback about this is that we leave in the dark (it was winter time here), and people over here have a dangerous habit of leaving their headlights on full blast, more or less blinding us, leaving us no choice but to block out the light with our left hand and drive one handed, which isn’t ideal on bumpy roads. Once out of the city limits we headed for the abandoned Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri, some 40km from Agra.
This was another gem of our trip, made easy by the
bikes as we got there nice and early when all the tourists were still asleep and could visit the magnificent surrounds minus the crowds. This walled city built by Emperor Akbar again, was the capital of the empire for a mere 10 years, having to be abandoned because of a lack of water supply.
On arriving a kid was frantically waving at me as we drove close to the walls. Not knowing if we could enter the city with bikes we pulled over, and found out that the kid wanted to be our guide. Admiring his early morning antics, we decided to take him up on his offer, and he hopped on the back of my bike. The massive entrance gate, Buland Derwaza, is 54 metres high, and no more epic a gate could I ever imagine seeing.
After parking the bikes, we had to climb about 50 steep steps to reach its base, so it towers above the surrounds. An inscription on the gate reads: “Jesus Son of Mary said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour, may hope for
eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer for the rest is unseen”. After walking under the gate, you enter a large courtyard with a mosque, again striking in its mathematical precision. At one point on our tour we had to put little plastic hats on to enter a mausoleum, which was quite funny as mine was bright green. After a tour around the little boy brought us to one of his friends, who wanted us to buy gifts for offering. We tried our tactic of explaining it’s not our religion so why would we offer to their god, to which the guy suggested getting one of the cheaper gifts. They’re stubborn little fellows, but eventually they got fed up trying to sell to us hehe.
We then moved onto the main palace compound where we got an excellent guide to show us around Akbars palace grounds. Akbar had three wives, one Christian, one Muslim and one Hindi. An effort to unite his sprawling empire I imagine. He built each of them a separate house, and it was quite interesting to learn the sometimes subtle differences in architecture. Not only did he have 3
wives, but he had an entire cohort of women in his palace, and he even built them a school and a marketplace. His guards had to be eunuchs as no red blooded male could be trusted in the palace grounds! Some interesting buildings lay dotted around the complex, where Akbar could govern his empire.
After leaving Fatephur Sikri we made our way to the pink city, and capital of the semi-desert state of Rajasthan, Jaipur. The roads were very good and we reached the outskirts of the city in about 4 hours. It has a population of about 3.5 million and we arrived about midday into crazy traffic, where they have a messy constantly changing one way system (it changed twice in the 2 days we were there). It took us around an hour to work out the maze, to our guest house and it was very hot in our jackets! But we had made it through our first rush hour traffic in a major city, so we were pleased. Also it was Richards Birthday so it was time to celebrate!
We chilled out most of the day, and headed out
in the night for a good meal. On our way down the noisy main street, two guys in a rickshaw pulled in next to us trying to start a conversation with us whilst driving and we waved them away. One guy was genuinely upset, saying he was only trying to be friendly, and Rich tried in vain to explain to him that driving down the main street is not the place to make friends, and usually rickshaws want us to go somewhere. To prove our point another Rickshaw pulled in to offer his services, but the guys still couldn’t understand. Ah well.
Day 4 & 5
Day 4 was a right off for me as I got a case of the old ‘Delhi belly’. Luckily we had built a few free days into our plan for just such happenings. Next day I was better again, and we went out to explore the multitude of sights in and around Jaipur.
We drove to the heart of the old town, and walked around soaking up the atmosphere. We walked past colourful spice stalls, cows munching on rubbish, people dusting, fresh
fruit sellers, suit makers and people selling all kinds of home wares. We watched Chai makers doing their thing, with big pots, spatulas for shoveling in sugar, and a vice for stirring the pot (gripping the side and spinning the pot in the air). We chatted to the friendly locals (they also posed for photos), who didn’t speak a word of English, but who understood we were on bikes driving through Rajasthan.
We made our way to the observatory of Jantar Mantar. The Mughals loved maths and geometry and what better way to express this than by building huge astronomical instruments. Taking centerpiece is the huge sundial of Samrat Yantra, the largest sundial in the world whose shadow moves at about 1mm per second. It is pretty cool experience being able to physically see the time shadow shifting about 6cm in a minute, literally the shadow of time. We had another excellent guided tour here, and he explained to us all the instruments, for tracking time, predicting eclipses, tracking the stars. A welcome change to temples and castles, and well worth a few hours.
View from Jaigarh
away from Jaipur, lying in a strategic choking point of a big valley between 2 mountain ranges is spectacular Amber Fort. Rajasthan bore the brunt of aggression from centuries of invading Mongol, Turk and Afghan forces, and as such is littered with massive forts and castles. We drove around the outskirts of the fort, and up the steep path, parking outside the impressive ramparts. It’s amber in colour, as well as name, and we spent around an hour admiring the view in the valley. Impressive walls circling the surrounding hills would have made it a formidable fort to attack. Up on the hills to the south-west of the fort stand another two forts called Jaigarh and Nahargarh fort.
We drove for about 20 minutes into the hillside to find the fort, but we only had around an hour to explore as dusk was fast approaching. The fort has the largest mobile cannon in the world, which was rather massive. It had a range of 22 kilometres, weighed 50 tons and took 100 kg of gunpowder to loose off a 50kg ball from its 11 inch barrel (the biggest modern battleships had an 18
inch gun). This fort had commanding views of the valley to the East and North of Amber fort, and protected the only point at which Amber was vulnerable to attack. The views here were probably the most amazing fortifications I have ever seen. I was inside a huge fort, overlooking the spectacular Amber fort, and could see high walls lining the surrounding hills in all directions. Fortalicious.
Tiger Fort (Nahargarh)
About 10 minutes south, on the same hill as Jaigarh, lies Tiger fort, which gives awesome views over Jaipur. We just reached here at dusk, and it was quite special to watch the sun setting over the pink city. Again we stood in a hilltop fort, with a view over the fortified city of Jaipur, which expanded beneath us in all directions.
On our way back to Jaipur shortly after dusk we couldn’t help, but notice a striking palace isolated in the middle of a lake. Jaipur has so many sights, it deserves more than a day to see them all. Indeed we tried our best to see everything in a day, but still missed out on some
amazing buildings like the city palace, and the Hawa Mahal or palace of winds (which is still a major sore point for us).
Day 6: Jaipur to Pushkar
We left in the brisk early morning, and headed to Pushkar, the site of the world famous camel fair which had taken place only a few weeks before our visit. We only stayed one night here, as it was more a way of breaking up the journey to Udaipur, our furthest point south.
The Mad Bush
The roads started to slowly worsen from here on in, and we had plenty of things to keep us busy on the drive. One of the funniest was the camouflaged bikers. The central divide between the opposite directions on the road was made up of mad, wild grass and bushes. Every so often you’d just see a motorbike merge into the fast lane from nowhere coming from the bush. Another favourite of ours were roadside shrines which stood in the central divide. Trucks would stop without notice next to these shrines, in the fast lane, for a quick pray.
This pilgrimage centre
is renound for its laidback hippy culture, and we could happily have stayed another day or two. It is centered around a picturesque lake, a holy one, where you can watch people praying and bathing. We took in a spot of people watching at one of the café’s surrounding the lake. We’d had our fill of sightseeing the day before, so didn’t go to the nearby temples, the sites of many a pilgrimage, but they are supposed to be interesting.
A few annoying touts tried to encourage us to pay donations to their gods, but we politely and firmly explained we don’t donate to religions that aren’t ours. Rich had another full blown enlightening conversation with these well practiced geezers, some of which falsely try and charge you to even get down to the steps themselves. Plenty of bars and touristy shops lie in the surrounding streets, and it would be a great place to escape the Indian cities for a while, even though it is a bit touristy.
Day 7: Pushkar to Udaipur
It was quite nippy when we left in the morning and we needed to use
a bit of choke to start up the freezing engines. Once back on the main Jaipur to Udaipur road, we made good time until we ran into a bridge that was closed. A shoddy diversion sign was put in place pointing right, and we headed off into more or less farm roads. After about 20 minutes of driving we still saw no sign diverting us back to the main road so stopped to ask for directions.
Kindness of Strangers
At a crossroads I saw a young boy and said “Udaipur?” to him whilst pointing at a road. He smiled, ran away into his house and I turned around kind of laughing to Rich (who I knew was thinking, the same thing happens when I talk to women). He came back with his father, who seemed delighted to see us, and I asked him “Udaipur?”. He didn’t speak English, but nodded and proceeded to tell us a series of directions, left right straight on left etc. This could be a long one so we turned off the bikes, and I rubbed my hands together, which were freezing from the morning drive. The man pointed at my
hands and asked me “Chai?”. I’ll never refuse a cup of tea, and nodded. The boy ran into the house and out came our Chai, followed by the whole family. The father motioned to his wife and she went back into the house and brought out some firewood!
They built us a fire, while the man started to draw us a map on the ground with a stick. Rich was slightly embarrassed by the man’s generosity, but I jumped next to the fire and entertained the whole family with my pictures on my camera (a great ice breaker when you don’t speak the language). After another cup of tea, a few pictures and a lot of hand shaking we were on our way again down some side roads. The kindness this man and his family showed to perfect strangers is a perfect example of what makes India such a compelling place to travel.
About 2 hours from Udaipur we stopped by a lake to take some photos, and were overtaken by a goat herd, which was using the main road as its walkway. Interesting. The road started winding as we reached some hills and
we had probably the most scenic drive of our trip on the last two hours to Udaipur. Driving around one blind corner we were quite alarmed to see a bus overtaking another bus in our lane. With nothing we could do we had to brake hard and pull off the road with only metres to spare, while the bus driver flashed his lights wildly, clearly giving him right of way. Our closest call so far.
Day 8: Udaipur
Udaipur is the most elegant city we visited in India. It stands on a ridge surrounding a beautiful lake, and has the eye-capturing Maharajas Palace centred on the hill, crowning the view. In the lake lye two islands, one the site of the White Lake Palace, from the Bond film ‘Octopussy’, and another an impressive marble palace. We stayed in a lovely guest house, with a rooftop restaurant, where you could watch the lake shimmering at night time with the reflections of the palaces.
In the morning we went to visit Jagdish temple, that we could see lying opposite our hostel on the lake. It was quite tall and different from ones we’d seen
before, with cool carvings all up the walls.
We had an excellent audio tour of the palace, which first took us through the armory. A double bladed sword and a gun-sword were the coolest items on display. We then wound our way into the inner courtyard where I had to surrender my camera, before being able to explore the rest. The palace is pretty huge so it was nice to be able to relax and follow the numbered stops of the audio guide.
We had another tour of a rare and extensive crystal collection, in a different part of the palace. One of the Maharaja’s was a crystal freak, and had expensive tables, chairs and even beds made out of the stuff! After the crystal museum we took a trip around the lake to one of the lake palaces. They happened to be filming a fairly terrible looking French film, and everyone was dressed up in traditional Indian garb, which was great for photos. The views of the palaces from the boat and the island were superb.
That night we watched Octopussy, which
was being shown at our rooftop restaurant… They show it every night at the same time. There’s only so much Roger Moore you can watch!
Day 9: Udaipur to Jodhpur
I really wanted to see a supposedly awesome fort that lay a little bit off the beaten track. It seemed easy enough, looking to be about 20-30km off the main road (mistake 1). It looked like it would be faster if we drove back along the road we took yesterday, cut in, find the fort and try and find our way along back roads to the other side (mistake 2).
The roads weren’t on our map, they weren’t on our GPS, and even mighty google maps only had sketchy maps of the area…gulp. We drove passed national highway 14, our turn off, without recognizing the turn, because it looked like a farm road and according to our maps it should have been further up. About 5 minutes later we realized we missed our turn off. Right here was where we should have turned around.
We ended up having to totally trust local directions, and getting
tied up in knots on their roads. They were bumpy and we took some awful knocks to the shock absorbers and worried about our tyres. On some roads we averaged about 10kmph they were so bad, and it was really draining, uncomfortable driving. We still hadn’t found it nearly 5 hours after leaving Udaipur.
At one point we were on a steep gravel covered road with a bus coming towards us taking up the full lane. I had to try and brake quickly whilst pulling out of the way. My front wheel lost traction and before I knew what was happening the handle bars locked sideways and I tried to hold the bikes weight on my left leg, but it had fallen too far. I turned around laughing at Richard, who helped me pick up the bike and the only thing hurt was my pride. That’s the first time I’d ever fell off any bike on a road, but I was much more cautious on gravel after, so maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. We never did find the fort in the end, god knows how the Mughals found it.
It took us another around 4 hours to find the main road to Jodhpur, so we had travelled a distance that should have taken us 2 hours in about 8…
The road was very busy and full with trucks, and we had to overtake trucks constantly, which was kind of dangerous and strangely fun, lots of dropping the clutch and shifting gears at high revs. On one overtaking move we were overtaking about 3 trucks in a row, and Rich was right next to one when there was a super loud BANG with dust and rubber flying everywhere! The trucks ride the tyres to the last thread and there almost always overloaded. I was about ten metres back and the burst truck tyre scared the shit out of me, but Rich was right next to it. Afterwards we joked about an episode of ‘Mythbusters’ where they tried to prove a myth that a blowout from a truck could decapitate a motorbike rider; it was proved a myth, but now we had first hand evidence ;-)
About 9 hours into our drive we were both knackered, stopped
for a bite to eat and let the bikes cool down. Shortly afterwards we were overtaking another group of trucks with a car right up my ass, and my front wheel started to wobble considerably. I was frightened it might be a loose nut, and I was surrounded by trucks and an impatient car so I knew if I fell I was a goner. I pulled off the road immediately without letting Richard know. It was only a puncture, but we were in the middle of nowhere so a puncture was a serious as a bust engine. Rich had realized I was no longer in his mirror and had pulled in worried that the car might have ran me off the road, and a truck driver had signaled to him that I was back along the road. ‘Oh fuck’ is the feeling Rich described to me hehe so he was quite relieved to see me at the side of the road with my bike.
We were standing there thinking of driving to the nearest town on Rich’s bike to fetch a truck to bring my bike to a workshop when 2 Indian lads
pulled in to see if they could help. I told them about my tyre and they pointed to a shack across the road and said ‘tyre wallah’. I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d blown my tyre right next to a tyre fixer :-) I wheeled my bike over and this guy had my tire fixed faster than you could say Supercallafragalisticexpialdocious. It cost me a total of 20 rupee or 33 cent! I tried to give him a tip, for saving my ass, but he refused so I gave it to his kids who’d been mad interested in us and our sunglasses.
We arrived in Jodhpur in the failing sunlight and had literally been driving all day on our wild good chase. Lesson learned; stick to main roads. We were bloody exhausted and collapsed in a heap at our guesthouse after our tough day.
Day 10: Jodhpur
For me, Jodhpur has the most spectacular fort in all of Rajasthan. It stands on an isolated rocky eminence that completely dominates the city…which more than made up for our shitty drive the day before.
We got a
rickshaw up to the fort, and I was immediately impressed by the imposing walls. It’s huge, and it affords great views of the blue city from its ramparts. Another excellent audio tour accompanied the entrance fee, and it really brings you back to the time of the Rajputs, a time of almost total war. The Rajputs were a skilful military caste who regarded valour and honour above all else, and had an intense pride for their ancestry. The Rajputs were the main obstacle blocking the Mughal domination of India, and many fierce battles and sieges took place throughout the centuries. Probably the greatest Mughal emperor, Akbar, solved the problem by allowing the Rajputs to hold their ancestral territories, provided that they acknowledged Akbar as emperor, paid tribute, supplied troops when required, and concluded a marriage alliance with him. This genius move turned his fiercest opponents, into his most powerful allies and allowed conquest of territories as far as Afghanistan.
Before we headed back to our guest house we visited a beautiful mausoleum where an accordion player played soothing melodies with the striking backdrop of the fort. The Rajputs picked a good spot:-)
Smoke Me A Kipper..
..I'll be back for breakfast
Jodhpur to Jaisalmer
Our drive into the great Thar Desert began early in the morning...and it was feckin freezing! After two hours on the abandoned roads I couldn’t feel my hands or legs anymore, so we stopped for some brekkie. It was a scandalous price (about 8euro) for some tea and eggs on toast...amazing the prices you get used to over here (normally about 2-3 euro for a full brekkie). I was freezing (for the first time in about a year since Queenstown) and it was nice to hold my cup of tea for warmth...a taste of home!
The road to Jaisalmer was excruciatingly plain and boring and it was a relief when the town loomed into view. The buildings are all a yellowish sandy colour and the fort looks like an impressive, intricate sand castle from far away.
Smoke me a Kipper
We decided to splash out on some luxury accommodation and ended up staying in an amazing palace or haveli. It used to be the British governor’s residence, and we were treated to tea on arrival while they readied our room. They employ a guy whose sole job
is to clap to keep the birds out of the pool! For 25 euro each a night for our room, it wasn’t too bad a price either ;-)
Day 12: Jaisalmer
First thing we did was explore Jaisalmer Fort, which was the site of many bloody battles and sieges throughout the centuries. Another quality audio guide explained the clever layout of the fort. You enter through a large gate into a courtyard which is overlooked on two sides by high walls with towers spaced evenly around. Enemies would be massacred in this open area. After passing through the courtyard a sloping pathway leads through two further gates, one specially designed to stop elephant charges. Inside you could still see huge boulders and rocks in place to roll onto enemies in this funneled path.
So Whats a Jauhar?
A quarter of the town’s population still lives inside the walls of the fort, and shops, guest houses and café’s are plentiful. The fort has 99 bastions strategically spaced along the walls, huge sandstone walls with steep scree slopes, and could survive long periods under siege. One such siege lasted 8 years and
ended up with the defenders choosing death over surrender in the crazy tradition of ‘Jauhar’. The families of the Rajput warriors would commit collective immolation, then the warriors would smear their dearly departed’s ash on their forehead and ride out to meet certain death face on. Em say what now? This didn’t happen just once in Jaisalmer, but 2 and a half times in its war torn history (long story on the half part).
Camel Trek near Sam
We had to drive about 40km to our camel trek in the little desert town of Sam, which lies only a few 100 odd kilometers from the Indo-Pakistan border. Huge military presence lay dotted around the area, due to the not so hot relations between the two, and at one point a convoy of 10 trucks with artillery guns drove by. We were bombing it down the road as we had no luggage, and suddenly something went in my bikes engine…oops! I wasn’t anywhere near redlining it but I could hear a knocking sound in the engine from here on in at low revs…that could be expensive.
The camel trek did exactly what it
said on the tin…it was a bit of a novelty, fairly commercial, and right next to the road, but still was good craic. We got to sit out in the dunes after and watch the sunset, with locals playing music, whilst we drank a few brews…not a bad way to end the day.
Afterwards we got to see a culture show, where we listened to music with strange instruments, watched women dancing into a dervish fury, and got to join in the dancing ourselves. We drove home in the moonlight on the abandoned desert roads, which was a pretty cool experience in itself.
Day 13: Jaisalmer to Bikaner
We had a grueling 7 hour drive to Bikaner. Grueling due to the uneventful boringness of the roads. Straight line through the arid land, with feck all traffic. What we would have given for some homicidal local busses on this road to spice things up a bit! We did nothing much this day, but drive, eat and sleep.
Day 14:Bikaner to Jhunjunnun
Due to the rather large distance between Bikaner and Delhi, we decided to drive half way to
Delhi and sacrifice our second day in Bikaner. We were so lucky we had made this decision as we had grossly underestimated the difficulty of the roads and the time it would take. Before getting on our way a strange little temple near Bikaner warranted a detour.
Deshnok Rat Temple
I have never seen so many rats in one place, nor have I seen people feeding them and let them run over their bodies. The rats are supposed to be re-incarnations of the dead relatives of the devotees, and as such they treat them to milk and sweets. The rats definitely don’t complain! It’s supposed to be good luck to see one of the rare white rats too, and we saw one having a drink of some milk…sweet!
After we tried to get back on track and took a side road that wasn’t on our map but locals told us existed. About ten km down the road we ran into some sand and our progress slowed considerably. At one point we hit a very heavy bit of sand and my front wheel got bogged in and lost traction
and again my bike hit the dust. I was only going about 5kmph and I landed on sand so it didn’t hurt, but my leg was trapped under the bike this time and there was fucking sand all over the shop. Some locals happened to be next to me and helped me up. Fucking sand! The lock for my pannier fell off aswell so they gave me some string to hold it closed hehe. I learned to go a bit slower in future which will come in handy the next time I have to go on sand…Dakar rally maybe?
Better the Devil You Know
We were faced with a choice once we got to the town of Fatehpur, to drive down to Jodhpur and back up on roads we knew would be busy but dual carriageway quality or take or chances on secondary roads and save about 300 km of driving. We took our chances and this proved to be a bit of a mistake. We guessed that this close to Delhi the roads would be fairly good quality, but they were the worst we encountered except for our shoddy detour on day 9.
Worst Road Ever?
It took us nearly 2 and half hours to drive the 50 km from Fatehpur to Jhunjunun on borderline ridiculous roads. The road at one point was raised about a foot from the surrounding rubble and was supposed to have two lanes but was so eroded that only one jagged lane still existed, the other bits looked like they’d blown away by explosives after a terrible earthquake.
At one point Rich was overtaking a tractor when the tractor ran out of room and had to run Rich off the road. He was knocked a foot down into post apocalyptic style rubble at speed, and I thought he for sure was going to come off and hurt himself. Somehow he managed to keep it together and regain control of his bike, that was dangerously hopping around, and after he slowed down a bit he managed to pull back onto the road…phew! We only had a few cat lives left surely.
By the time we reached Jhunjunnun we were wrecked tired. My luggage panniers had started to fall apart from the constant jarring of the
terrible road we had just driven on so I had to find a welder somewhere before we could sleep. Sure enough I found one by the roadside and for about 50 cent he welded my bike back together.
Day 15: Jhunjunnun to Delhi
It was time for the big boss level; the most difficult day of driving in both our lives to date. We had 130 km of driving along roads of the same grade as the day before, then at least 3 hours driving 150km on the busy roads back into the capital. I remember talking about with Richie the day before and at one point he stood and shook his head saying ‘We’re goosed’.
The first 20 km away from Jhunjunnun was pretty good and we were making good time, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. It seems that each town or village along the way is responsible for its own roads, as once we passed through a small town, the roads turned to shit. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this road was a warzone. Trying to avoid potholes that wanted to swallow our bikes was
a full time job, we were driving about 10kmph and it was physical work, the bumps and jolts constantly jarring our muscles. Every so often you couldn’t help but hit one of these monsters and you’d brace yourself for a strong impact and hope it didn’t burst the tire. Rich had two slow punctures at this stage, and we had to stop and fill up his air every 50km on these roads.
Local busses drove like lunatics down these roads at top speed and it was most unnerving to have them overtaking trucks and cars in your ‘lane’ (a term I use most generously here). They really have no qualms about running you off the road to overtake something. One time one did a ridiculous maneuver, it definitely saw us and blatantly ignored the fact we were there. Rich had an interesting tactic here that worked. He saw the bus go for it, and instead of pulling out of the way he just raised both his hands to his temples shaking his head, forcing the bus to mow him down or pull back in. It worked.
About 20km down this terrible excuse road, we pulled in and Rich asked how far we had driven in the last 2 hours (his speedo and milometer were broken). I told him 40km and it was like telling a kid there’s no santa. ‘My back is fucked’ he said. We would definitely not make it to Delhi if these shit roads continued as our bikes were taking a hammering. By the end of this road, Rich’s entire instrument panel wouldn’t work…no rev counter, no lights, no indicators, no speedo…Finally a town loomed into view about 10km later, the roads looked good and we were fist pumping the air in delight to each other. I remember shouting like a madman to myself ‘YES…FUCK YES...WOOO’.
The traffic was getting a bit heavier now as all roads lead to Delhi, and we started meeting more trucks and insane local busses. If we waited for a safe point to overtake the trucks, the busses would jump at the chance and shove us onto the margin. Sometimes they’d overtake us when we were overtaking someone else. The roads weren’t good enough for us to go full speed so we were nothing but
traffic cones to these guys. One bus in particular was like our end of level bad guy, making continuous attempts on our life, and running two oncoming motorbikes into a field. I’d say we had at least 5 close calls with these busses in the 130 km it took to get to the main road.
150km to Delhi
After 4 hours on the back roads, we finally reached the main road, and it was tearing busy. We had a quick stop to eat some food, and I bought a heap of Worthers Originals that I would chew on at anxious moments. I went through 2 packs in the 150km. These were the traffic conditions we had endeavored to avoid, trucks, motorbikes, busses and camel carts…everywhere.
Construction next 100km
They happened to be constructing a new motorway between Jaipur and Delhi, which is good news for future road users, but very bad news for us. The road surface was all over the place, in one place I remember there being 3 different heights of tarmac. If you had to overtake you’d have to ramp up or down a tarmac kerb about
half a foot high, it was a joke. There was numerous diversions where the 6 lane motorway, would take a sudden 45 degree turn into a 2lane road way, you can imagine the congestion. One advantage was that we were able to slip past homicidal busses in the congestion, but we had to compete for space with our new enemy, cars. Some of these guys built up serious momentum and had no intention of slowing down, doing some ridiculous undertakings.
At one point we made enemies with one car driver who wanted us to get out of his way, whilst we were mid overtaking a truck, flashing his lights and beeping his horn, swerving crazily behind us trying to find space, only a couple of inches from our rear wheel…scaring the shit out of me basically. Rich won’t put up with that kind of shit, and he slowed down to the same speed as the truck blocking the way. The guy was going crazy, and after a few minutes he pulled back, undertook the truck and powered off. Rich was pissed and tore after him, and I caught up later at a congested
point and could see Rich honking his horn and flashing his lights at him…I joined in until Rich’s horn ran out of compressed air. It felt good. Rich had pushed his engine giving this guy a taste of his own medicine, and damaged it…piston knocking…but man was it worth it.
About 40km from Delhi we reached the outskirts of the huge city. The roads were unbelievably dangerous, 6 lanes of everyman for himself traffic. We usually tried to hide, side by side, behind something big like a truck or bus, but it really was crazy. Imagine the motorbike chase seen in ‘The Matrix Reloaded’. We were Trinity, and everyone on the road was a potential agent trying to kill us.
Richard’s status update sums it up
“Despite the vigilant and continuous attempts on our lives by the Indian public myself and nige have returned to delhi after 2700km with all limbs intact. The Bikes however are another story. . . . . . . . . . . . .”
When we finally reached our hostel and turned off the bikes, the feeling of relief was immense. We had
done it! 2700km that we will never forget! We had seen enough castles and forts to last us a lifetime, and travelled through the amazing land of kings and colours. We had totally wrecked the poor little bikes we had, but they had proved to be trusty steeds, and it only cost us about 1000 rupee to get them fixed (less than 20 euro). Here’s to Hero Honda and Bajaj!
Our Rajasthan Rumble had been tough at times, but we’d managed to see the soul of Rajasthan and been on the receiving end of the peoples kindness. It’s the places we came to see, but it’s those moments with the people we will remember (those aiding us and those trying to kill us).
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