I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.

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PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Incredible India

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I made the decision a fortnight ago to travel the southern route around Pakistan and Afghanistan. We will therefore ship, by air-freight, lock stock and barrel, from Mumbai to Dubai UAE, as soon the logistics can be organised.

After a few days in-and-around the Arabian Peninsula, we'll then ferry across the Straight of Hormuz from Sharjah (Dubai) to Bandar Abbas, southern Iran; then take around 18 days heading north up through Iran into → Armenia → finally finish this leg of the trip somewhere in the city of Tbilisi, Georgia.

Can you imagine? Riding all the way up through Iran, of all places. A proposition in a different time, which I would have expected to have prompted my dear mother to feel my forehead .. and ask if I was feeling alright!

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Sunday, 4th May

The city of Amritsar, in the state of Punjab. The spiritual centre for the Sikh religion.

30 km [19 mi] from Amritsar lies the boundary dividing India and Pakistan.

After the Partition of India in 1947 the village of Wagah was split in two. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in the Republic of India while the western half is in Pakistan.

There is daily border closing ceremony at the border that starts at around 5:00 pm. All done with fascinating pomp and ceremony that involves tall soldiers in elaborate 'peacock-type headwear goose-stepping about and slamming stuff. It has become a tradition for people from both countries to gather and see the proceedings. Both sides synchronize their parade and the entire event is meant to create a feel-good/patriotic fervour amongst the crowds.

To our delight we discovered that it's a non-ticket event, free for anyone on the Indian side as of January 2009. We just had to go and see it all for ourselves.

The Pakistani side of the border .. and

The Indian side

Mahatma Gandhi looks down on proceedings (India side, obviously).

Incidentally, every Indian banknote - ₹5, ₹10, ₹20, ₹50, ₹100, ₹500 and ₹1,000 - features a portrait of Gandhi.

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The Indian military contingent:

The noise and atmosphere of the assembled crowds on both sides of the border is similar to that of a major sporting event .. and bloody entertaining.


.
See for yourself [click-on the forward play arrow above]


The formal flag lowering ceremony starts at around 6:30 pm


The show finishes after the border gates are slammed shut and bolted.

A terrific spectacle. Highly recommended.

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Later that evening:

We went straight to the Golden Temple after the border closing ceremony. It was dark by the time we got there at around 7:30 pm. 


The Golden Temple.

Visiting the Temple is a major pilgrimage for all Sikhs and rightfully so, as it is a very beautiful and unique complex, which was full of thousands of people from all over India during our time there.

With covered heads and shoes removed, we wandered around one of the most amazing places in India. The excitement felt infectious, and we found it easy to strike-up a conversation with any turban-wearing pilgrim we approached;  all more than happy to talk to us about their religion and customs.

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Monday-5th & Tuesday 6th

Southbound for 550 km [342 mi] to the city of Bikaner.

This region of India was busy gathering-in and transporting its wheat harvest.

Thousands of trucks all laden to the brim, carting yet another record harvest - the seventh straight bumper crop in a row - to state storage warehouses dotted around the country.

Talking of transport ...

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India's Traffic Scene

I'll admit that I was more than a little worried about riding around on India's vast network of roads. But it's all over now and this is my summary of the last 6,500 km [4,040 miles]:

It has been frequently heart-rending, sometimes hilarious, mostly exhilarating, always unforgettable and, when out there, quite often extremely dangerous.

The secret to survival, so I quickly discovered, is to think like an Indian motorist whose mantra is:  
"To slow is to falter, to brake is to fail, to stop is defeat."

And never forget, ALL manoeuvres, the use of the horn (also known as 'the sonic fender') is absolutely mandatory.

Here's some picture we took along the way:

Through a typical city centre ..

.. you can't come to much harm. That ox-drawn cart demonstrates that traffic goes only just a tad faster than a snail-pace. No-one dies within the city limits, the speeds are too slow .. except for the odd snail or two.

A herd of cattle sh!tting their way down a 6-lane major motorway .. can catch you unawares though. Always keep an eye out for new slippery land mines immediately after encountering cattle.

.. or wriggle your way through a tribe of goats. Too stupid to look right, left .. and right again.

The unavoidable truck carnage. We witnessed accidents every day, some of them fatal. Dead bodies literally lying by the side of the road waiting for someone - an ambulance, or more likely a mortuary wagon, anyone - to come pick 'em up.

Always the curious onlookers; like this mob gawping from the back of an autorickshaw.

And always the same questions. In the end I was tempted to prepare some hand-outs to save time, which would have read:

- Honda
- 650 cc
- 5 gears
- Around 165 km/h .. with a following wind
- About 17 km per litre
- A new one? US$7,500 - that's over 440,000 rupees
- From England. The bike's from New Zealand
- Self-employed, work in banking and finance shenanigans
- And finally, before you ask, I'm 59. 
- Yes, I know, hard to believe isn't it?! 

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Tuesday-6th

Onwards and downwards to Bikaner, a dust-swirling outpost city .. with inevitably, its own historic fort.

We took a ride late in the afternoon, for about 30 km [18½ mi] south to the even dustier township of Deshnok, to see one of India's creepiest attractions, the Karni Mata Temple. Home sweet home ..

.. to thousands of rats. There is a background story, a legend behind it all of course, which you can read here: LINK.

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 Wednesday-7th & Thursday-8th

330 km [205 mi] southwest from Bikaner brought us to the enchanting desert city of Jaisalmer, the "Golden City," situated no more than about 150 km [93 mi] from the Pakistan border. 

Another outpost city .. another historic fort.

By this time we were becoming completed 'forted out'

One of the many shopkeepers we met within the Fort's maze of streets with whom we struck-up a conversation, but ended-up having to say, 'No buy today, thank you.'

Most of the shopkeepers within the Jaisalmer Castle walls took our refusals to inspect and buy their wares in good spirit and didn't press us any further.

In fact, it's fairly safe to say that we really enjoyed out brief time in Jaisalmer and its outlying desert scene. A small city in the middle of nowhere with a laid-back ambience, which has some of the friendliest locals we have met on this trip.

[Panorama - click to enlarge]

A view of Jaisalmer and the desert beyond from one of the Fort's western bastions.

Better go up then.

It was beer o'clock after all!

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Thursday-8th

We stayed in a nice little boutique hotel, Jasmin Home, for our two nights' stopover in Jaisalmer; very well managed by the owner, Jitendra Bissa - 'Jitu' for short.

Jitu drove us westwards in his jeep out into the desert for a sightseeing and camel safari excursion. Along the way, about 15 km [9½ mi] outside of Jaisalmer, we stopped at Kuldhara: 'An Abandoned & Cursed Village.'

[Panorama - click to enlarge]

The Kuldhara 'event' is one of the weirdest and inspiring stories I’ve ever heard.

Kuldhara Village is/was the largest village in a wider neighbourhood consisting of 84 villages all told. Once upon a time (dating back to the 13th Century) a very prosperous community.

However, in 1825 the villages were abandoned overnight when the then lusty ruling king laid his eyes on the beautiful daughter of the village chieftain and proposed a deadline for their marriage, after which he would forcefully enter the village and take said daughter whether willing or not.

All the chiefs of surrounding 84 villages met and decided that, for pride and honor, they should all leave the villages in the dark of the night. Although nobody knows exactly how they did it, every living soul in all of the 84 villages just disappeared that very night. Nobody saw them leave or figured out where they went – they simply vanished.

Now a ghost town, a haunted setting in the eerie desert backdrop, which makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

A 35 km [22 mi] jeep ride further into the desert, we met-up with a local tribesman, Abdullah, and his nephew (aged 14) and young son (aged 3½)

Abdullah

.. and his young son

My desert ride for the evening .. "I've got very beautiful lips"


.. technically called a dromedary - a larger, heartier version of the camel with only a single hump.

Off we stroll, gently swaying back and forth into the arid landscape dodging the scrubby vegetation.



Come ride with me [click on the forward play arrow above]

An hour later - casting long shadows as nightfall approached ..

.. we arrive and meet-up with Jitu and the jeep at a makeshift desert campsite.

Dinner time. A big emphasis is put on providing enough food for guests in these rustic settings.

Jitu skillfully prepared and cooked fresh vegetable curry from raw ingredients over a small fire. Spicy for me, not-so spicy for Ellen .. 'puhleeze'

.. whilst Abdullah prepares and cooks made-from-scratch chapatti breads.

And we drank beer.

.. and poked a few wandering dung beetles in the dunes.

I have to say that our time riding through the rippling, windswept Rajasthani desert on the back of a camel (okay, a dromedary), and the simple but very tasty camp-fire meal prepared and eaten under the stars that followed, was one of the most unforgettable and enchanting experiences we've had in India.

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From Ellen's journal: click on this link → Amritsar, the Golden Temple and High Kicks

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Friday-9th

278 km [173 mi] to the city of Jodhpur - and another f ff-ff fort!

Saturday-10th

323 km [201 mi] to the city of Udaipur.

Udaipur is referred to as the "Venice of the East," and the "Most Romantic City of India" - wrapped around its splendid City Palace, which is built entirely of granite and marble.

An early evening view of Fateh Sagar Lake from one of the Palace's ramparts.

And yes, we nearly got caught-up in that brewing thunderstorm you see in the picture above; escaping it only by chance over dinner within one of many 'veg only' restaurants dotted around the city.

Udaipur macaque monkeys guarding the Castle.

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Sunday-11th

315 km [196 mi] to the city of Vadodara - and hey, not a fort nor a castle in sight. YAY!

Vadodara, also known as Baroda, located on the banks of the Vishwamitri river, in the alcohol-forbidden state of Gujarat.

We didn't hang there around for long.

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Monday-12th

I hadn't seen the ocean, any ocean, for more than five weeks at this point; and thought it would be cool to see the Indian Ocean .. from an Indian shoreline?

So from Vadodara in the 'dry' state of Gujarat, we headed for the coastal township of Daman, which is a popular place to visit because of the freedom to drink liquor, which as mentioned, is prohibited in the neighbouring state of Gujarat. Now you can understand why we were in a hurry to leave Vadodara .. in Gujarat!

And it gets better: Along with Goa and Diu, Daman is a former Portuguese enclave, and like the other two, it comes with little to no tax on alcoholic beverages .. :-) .. For Daman this, as it turned out, was the only selling point.

Without pre-booked lodgings, it took us about 90 minutes of speculative enquiries and haggling to suss-out the accommodation scene. As this was going to be our penultimate stopover destination in India, we thought we would splash-out and spoil ourselves with some proper lavishness; finally settling for The Gold Beach Resort, Devka Beach Road, Daman.

5,400 rupees (54 quid - US$91) per night - and worth every penny.

First things first, eh?

A low tide view from the rear patio area of the misnomered Gold Beach [huh?] Resort. You see that dirty grey thin smudge of a line on the horizon beyond the seaweed-strewn rock pools? Well that's the Indian Ocean .. from an Indian shoreline!

The following morning. A view of the steps down from the back of our hotel to the trash-filled beach. Nobody else around except me. I had a couple of miles of grey sand all to myself; well, apart from the defecating street dogs just out of view. 

I've clearly been too spoilt over the years by past wanderings around the golden, soft sandy beaches of Cornwall, France and Spain .. Thailand and Queensland Australia.

I have led a privileged life .. haven't I?

Yes I have.

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SUMMARY

Mountains, jungles, deserts .. and tropical beaches (somewhere, allegedly). Incredible India has it all.

And believe me, this monster of a country really is Incredible.

I've learnt that there is no such thing as a compromise here in India, the word doesn't exist in its vocabulary. It's full-on in your face wherever you roam. Bottom line is that you either grow to love it very quickly, or you end-up hating it even faster. I have experienced a peculiar mind-stirring mix of both, almost every day, almost every hour, for the last month. 

My month-long ride around just a corner of this intoxicating country will surely blaze in my memory, probably forever.

But I have to say it .. I India far more than I could ever hate it. I really do.



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Next stop: Dubai - maybe by as soon as this upcoming weekend, commencing Saturday-17th.

Move with me.

See you in the Emirates.

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