Indian travels….Biting the Bullet (350cc variety)

November 18th, 2009 § 7

It’s taken a while to post, but here it is, an exciting short trip to ride a motorcycle in Southern Indian at short notice. Here’s a copy of a dispatch to friends:
The Enfield Bullet, Rob Suisted and Polelem Beach
Change of life circumstances,
an opportunity,
brother in India,
tickets booked Wednesday,
Mumbai by Saturday,
Classic Royal Enfield Bullet motorbike rented illegally from Policeman by lunchtime,
an adventure unfolds….

A mass email for those interested to know more…

Thought I had better file something from India before departing.  Things have been so full on the classic Royal Enfield Bullet 350cc motorcycle Suisted tour, and not really near touristy type places that getting to an internet connection has been a bit hard.

The beautiful Enfield - unchanged since the 1940's

So, in the nutshell, joined brother Phil and Nicki in Panaji Goa about 8 days ago.  Served a whirlwind apprenticeship under Phil, learning the ropes on communicating (yes you might be speaking with an english speaker, but our logic is worlds apart – once you’ve confused them you’re stuck), wheeling and dealing, route finding (read communication), food, chai, riding a motorbike that is doubly back to front – gear lever on opposite foot, and change direction reversed – if you emergency brake like in NZ you only succeed in changing up a gear!).

Phil and Nicki really impressed me at how quickly they’ve learned, and esp. Phil dubbing Nicki as he hasn’t done many miles on a motorbike – let alone dubbing (not to mention the nerves of steel and trust that Nicki has sitting on the back watching the traffic and potholes unfold) .  With that done, we set off into the maelstrom of traffic on my 350 bullet ( it dones 80KM flat out – basic design unchanged since 1940s). Road rules don’t really exist, the basic factor is might is right, and motorbikes are bottom feeders. You need to treat the centre line as fully moveable and stay 100% awake, and use horn all the time on traffic you come up on (and cows and dogs).  Trucks will pass trucks on blind corners – it’s your job to expect this and be ready to run off the road for them… 

Overtake the bus on the outside, the tuk-tuk on the inside, and catch the bus overtaking the truck on the blind corner - situation Normal

Overtake the bus on the right side, the tuk-tuk on the wrong side, through the roadworks, over the bridge. Catch the bus overtaking the truck on the blind corner - Situation Normal!

Also, if your side of the road has potholes, you may wish to swap sides at any moment (esp. if you’re a bus or truck).  While it sounds hairy, it all works – the drivers drive well ahead of themselves and are totally focused.  Even the cows know that standing in the middle of a blind corner is fine if you walk slow in a constant direction.  So, it feels a bit like how Indiana Jones would ride, it’s a total blast from some of the best riding to the worst. You normally need to halve if not quarter travelling distances – especially with the monsoon damaged roads (I got stuck in mud in a pot hole on a national highway and had to push before the truck behind pushed me out!).  Enough of that.

Down the coast we went to Pololem Beach and then down to Udapi (the site of the most famous Krishna shrine), then Mangalore and over a horrendous pass to Hassan (read Arthur’s Pass with gravel and pot holes and bumper to bumper trucks (with about 2% being repaired in the middle of the road where they stop – and they do full engine rebuilds in the middle of the road – dropping the pistons out and all!). Up to Hassan where Phil and Nicki peeled off further south with extra time they have towards Mysore and Ooty.  I started the solo trek north again (a rite of passage maybe), stopped into to see an important 10th century Vishnu temple at Belur, thru Chikmagalur (beaut name and coffee district) before ending in Shimoga.

By chance I found that less than 10km away was the only village in the world to still speak matturSanskrit – what a bonus.  2 hours of direction finding later  I arrived down a tiny country lane.  Clearly the first western to have been in a while.  A frosty reaction was thawed adn the whole village turned out..  Free Iddlies and chais where flowing, even teh barber got me in for a free shave with 50+ kids crammed into the tiny shop watching every shave moment!  My gear was being passed about but with total trust.  Out came the NZ coins for the kids collections and a fantastically rich  morning was had by all.  Those of you that know about the school of philosophy in Wgtn will understand the Sanskrit significance

So, onwards towards the coast…put put put. brrrrrr..put put ……. limping back to Sagar a small town in the middle of nowhere to find an Enfield specialist mechanic wallah (a rarer creatuer these days since everyone rides cheap reliable Hondas these days).  Two workshops and many chais and test runs later and little english and we found a bad wiring system (7 mechanics for 4 hours 100 rupee, about NZ$3.30!) and new battery needed..

Inside the workshop, a familar sight. "Enfield specialst, Enfield specialist"

Inside the workshop, a familar sight. "Enfield specialst, Enfield specialist". Enlarge to read the bylines!

An unexpected night in the countryToo late to set off I was thinking accommodation with the local reporter turns up with OK english. I am to be his guest for the night with his wife, new child and parent.  That decided at 4pm, we get home at 9pm – good things take time in India!  This involved him ‘showing off the Kiwi’ in bar where the politicians drunk, disappearing oddly, and a long rural drive for 40 minutes in the dark following his Honda (they don’t use lights at night when they drive or ride!) to heck knows where.  Anyway, I get there, met the extended family, and sit on the floor to eat Samba with fingers in front of the indoor cooking fire – the real life.  Sagar family who looked after me so wellIt was the most peaceful time in India – no dust, no fumes, and silence – just frogs in their rice paddies below. Up at sparrows to the cows feeding out front, the mother of Mahesh cleaning and laying intricate hindu powder designs on the home threshold with flowers and food offerings etc.  The water buffallo corralled in the shed making compost for the rice, water being lifted from teh well, and the most lush beautiful view.  Breakfast with my adopted family - deliciousBreakfast was fantastic Chutna (coconut, green tomato and chilli with roti – best food yet) – totally home grown.  Delightful morning spent with all before departing.  Mahesh took me into a cotton mill to see my shirt being made from scratch – cotton spun, dyed, woven, cut and sewed – with totally organic dyes and cotton – about 100 beaming faces proud of their well regarded product – another great experience.

Back on bike for some fantastic riding through rainforest (with spider monkeys sunbathing on the road) to the coast at Honovar, then back to the trucks and poor roads north to Goa. 

Number 1 road - some tarseal!

Number 1 road - some tarseal!

The local Police head man at the state border wished to make a sod of himself and have me walk talk adn sing his tune routine strait from Monty Python – complete with staff under the armpit and chest out.  But the joke was really on him if you’d seen the moustache! The big black waxed number with the rolled ends. Many papers checked before I breathed easy (having rented the motorbike illegally (not that I knew at the time) from a policeman in Goa and having to carry all his ownership papers and insurance etc!), and we got down to the important task of talking cricket (the universal language and something that gets all kiwis at least a kind welcome it seems).

The Burt Munro memorial runBack in Pololem beach for a night surrounded by tourists – the first Westerners I’ve seen for ages.  A bit fake and tainted so was pleased to head back to Panaji in the morning. But first, in honour of Burt Munro, I had to figure out a way to get the old Bullet onto the beach for a speed run on sand before I gave it back.  Goa cows, what a lifeAn early morning start while tourists were nursing hangovers, I fired her up (no baffles I should add) and found a narrow strip down to the beach (luckily all the beach stalls aren’t up yet) and let her rip.  Stopping for a photo, a chap hurried to tell me that local Police like fining tourists 2000 rupees for the pleasure. Not this boy, as a rooster tail of sand was all that remained as I headed for Panaji, the capital of Goa, for the handover of the Bullet to get my 15500Rs deposit back.

 The Bullet handover was complicated, the middleman in town who arranged the deal with the Bullet was easy to locate, and arranged for 7pm handover, in a town 20km away.  Noticing the full petrol tank he was insistent that he took petrol for his fee (my preference was cash….), so he rushed away to clean the bike and drain some gas.  We’re off in the dark for a mad 30min country ride when I run out of gas $^*&%#$!! and lose him in the dark!  Finding petrol at a nearby chai stop, I headed back to the guest house, where the owner is just as p*ssed as me.  She starts wheels turning, and sends me off to get dinner at a friend’s restaurant (fish caldinha – yum) while she contacts the cop.  I discover the restaurant owner Linda has a daughter living in Wellington and I’m carrying a Kashmir pashmena home for her. The Policeman bullet owner arrives to get his bike just before the middleman does, who is saying I got lost to the Policeman (not that he just flogged 500Rs of gas from the cop)!  Tense scenes before beer is ordered and all sorted. 

 Next day Linda the restaurant owner drags me into her restaurant me to sit down and eat the most delicious 3 course meal of her best home cooking on the house (prawns and all)! Late for the airport, Linda and the Guest house owner Janet are there to see me off, and pay the 500Rs for the Taxi, which leaves me gob smacked.  Their hospitality and generosity was humbling, and really sums up my experience of India. I joke that they feel like mothers, but Janet says Linda would rather have me as her husband than son.  The Portuguese/Christian heritage here really is different to the rest of India!  I’m already making plans to return.

Landed in Mumbai (Bombay) and had 5 hours before my international flight.  Crazy crazy crazy alive. Negotiated a taxi for a whistle stop visit to two important landmarks in the suburb of Colaba I’ve wanted to see since reading the book Shantaram (go read it!) – The Gateway of India, and Leopold Café (site of a massacre 1 month later).  A quick beer with a Kiwi boy and his English partner, then back into the cab with Mohammad, the great, tiny, slightly bewildered, fasting Muslim chap who spoke not a word of English, but had a heart of gold, and to the airport.

Next stop Singapore, for a half a day with my cousin Debbie.  You must change your ticket and stay for the weekend she said.  “I can’t, but why…..?”  Oh, I have corporate tickets to the F1 Grand Prix, and also to the Playboy aftermatch party if you can.  Aaarghhhhh!

So, to finish, I’ve loved it in India, and really found things easy once you give up our western expectations about how things should work.  If you just relax and realise that generally people here want the best for you, and everything always gets done, then it will. Just not how or when you expect, but normally for the better.  And, my head wiggle and understanding is coming along great. In many ways India has restored a lot of faith in Humanity.

So that’s my tome, sorry about typing, spelling, grammar and stream of thought, but mostly it was typed one very late night after 1500kms @ 35km/h average speed over 6 days and 50million potholes and dust for africa, and ….) and I just wanted to tell some of you…

Right, off to the Falklands, South Georgia, Chile and Antarctica in 4 weeks……..
Cheers, Rob

In an after note to this, well known photographer and journalist icon Peter Bush kindly wrote the following article in Photographers Mail on my Indian trip (amongst other things):

Click to read article by Peter Bush

Click to read article by Peter Bush

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§ 7 Responses to “Indian travels….Biting the Bullet (350cc variety)”

  • Irene says:

    Wow what a trip.I don’t think Dad’s Enfield would ever had such an entertaining time as that poor wee bike

  • CK says:

    Thanks for the entertaining post. I’m heading to Rajasthan in two weeks for a week on a Royal Enfield. No itinerary. You gave me a taste of what to expect.

  • Rob says:

    Hi Ck

    I’m terribly envious of you! Feel free to email me any questions. Always remember two things – 1) give up western expectations of how things will happen, and 2) trust that everyone means well (within reason), and you will have a trip beyond your belief. Indian is a generous place if you’re open to her I think. Namaste

  • Chris Court says:

    Nice story – brought back memories of an epic 6-month tour of India on an Enfield 500 in 2000. Best thing I ever did.


  • Jónico says:

    A great account, a gem of a story and the pics really bring it to life. Thanks!
    I didn’t get my Bullet until after having traveled around parts of India 3 different times. Now I ride around Spain (not too shabby either) until I get back to India and rent a bullet.

  • Hello there, I do believe your blog might be having internet browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in IE, it’s got some overlapping issues. I simply wanted to give you a quick heads up! Aside from that, fantastic site!

  • Heel mooi artikel, thanks!

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