Travelogue 4Thu, August 4, 2005 - 7:21 PM
After a couple of days in Phalodi, my new bike arrived with a mechanic from Lalli's shop in Delhi, and I was ready to take off again. This time I had a newer bike, with a huge 20 liter gas tank (nice to not have to stop to fill up so often). I took off to continue my trip to Jaisalmer, and soon realized that the new bike's speedometer was WAY off. Since I was on long straight aways out in the desert with not much traffic, I started doing time trials, keeping the bike at a constant speed while timing the distance between five kilometer markers. I found that when my bike said I was going 100 kph, I was actually going 67 kph. Thass a big difference, yo. Regardless, I know am now able to glance at my speedo & can instantly calculate how fast I'm actually going.
Arriving in Jaisalmer was great: it's one of the furthest out-west cities in India. It's dominated by a huge fort that rises up off the desert floor in a most impressive manner. I drove up inside the fort, where there was an awesome labyrinth of tiny streets, shops, houses & hotels. I checked into a place that had been recommended by other travelers, and headed to the roof-top restaurant to watch the sun go down. The view was spectacular, to say the least. Jaisalmer was a great place to get off the road. Nice & relaxing, with a minimum of shop keepers trying to get me to go into their shops. I met up with a kid from PA named Dustin, and we spent almost a week hanging out & checking out the town. There was a beautiful little lake there, and we rented a paddle boat & paddled around watching the sun go down. Kinda funny to see two big American dudes squeezed into this little Indian sized paddle boat. We also went on a camel trek from Jaisalmer (my second one). I just really love camels, despite the fact that they're really aloof & always think they know better than you about everything.
After six days, I finally managed to extract myself from Jaisalmer & headed down to Jodhpur, a beautiful city filled with blue houses & another very impressive fort. I only stayed one night in Jodhpur, as I was on a schedule to try & meet Britta up north. From Jodhpur I drove back to Jaipur, and spent a day there resting & spending more money than I should have. The Lonely Planet guide book says Jaipur is the place to shop till you drop, and they aren't kidding. And anyone who knows me at all knows I love me some shopping. Dammit.
from Jaipur, I headed east toward Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. But on the way, I knew I needed to stop at the Balaji temple along the way. The Balaji temple is a Hindu exorcism temple, and I'd heard some really weird things about it. Well, all the things I heard were true. It's a pretty large temple, and there are two things going on: There are loads of people showing up to pray just like at any other temple, and then there are dozens of people there who are in one state or another being "exorcised". I saw a man chained to the bars of a window, compulsively counting off on his fingers & babbling to himself. There was room filled with smoke & people chanting to a drum beat, some of them wailing out loud, many lying face down on the floor writhing about. It was so crowded I had to be careful not to step on them. Outside this room were more people in various states of ritual. In one spot a number of people were lying on the ground with absolutely enormous rocks placed on top of them, looking like they were crushing them. But they just lay there, seemingly oblivious to what was going on. Other groups of people were gathered around small fires, moaning, screaming & chanting while rocking back & forth. It was all very surreal, and all the while a constant flow of regular worshipers filing past the ones being exorcised, as if it was all just a normal day. Which of course, it was. Britta, who had been to the temple a week before me, had a great thing to say about it: "Back in America, we're used to having separation between our places of worship & our care facilities for mentally disturbed people" (I hope I quoted you accurately, B). The Balaji temple left me in a really weird state of mind. When I got back to my bike I found that a parking car had knocked it over, and it took four Indian men to pick it up for me in my absence. Aside from a few dents & some lost petrol, everything seemed fine. I thanked the guys who picked it up & got back on the road. After ten minutes the bike died. Great. I started going over everything trying to figure out what was wrong, and sure enough, just like whenever I stop, a small crowd gathered around. This time, it was strange because I was in the middle of nowhere, and the crowd was mostly children. Well, one of them was eighteen, and even though we couldn't communicate (him no english, me no hindi) - he insisted on fiddling with the bike. Much to my surprise, he came up with an idea I thought might actually work - involving some jerry rigging of the carburetor. Sure enough, it DID work, and I was able to get back on the road. Man, that kid rocked. By this time, it had gotten really late, and darkness fell a lot quicker than I expected. Another thing happened as well: it got cold. And I don't mean "ooh, it's a bit nippy" - I mean BRRRRR-FUCKING-BRRRRR-I'M-FREEZING-MY-FRIKKEN-ASS-OFF!!! cold. So it's dark, the road conditions were getting worse, I'm freezing, and can't find a hotel. Lemme tell ya something about driving after night fall here in India: it's impossible to see. Any & all vehicles coming toward you have either blindingly bright high beams on, or no lights what-so-ever. Being blinded by these high beams really helps when on yer side of the road, there are slow moving camel carts that have no lights, as well. So yer bearing down on a camel cart that you can't see because yer blinded by the high beams, or, you've got an auto-rickshaw coming at ya that you can't see because he has no lights - and yer of course still blind from the truck you just passed. Finally, when I was starting to get shaky from the cold & lousy driving conditions, I found a place & checked right in. It was a fancy-pants place that didn't get many westerners (or many anybody, actually) - so I had the place to myself & order room service & took a hot shower. Much better. I didn't even mind that the tv only got one channel, and that soon died when the power went out. Oh, I haven't mentioned the power going out in India? Yup, happens all the time. It's kind of interesting, 'cause another funny thing is that when you get into a hotel room, there is a bank of anywhere from five to ten switches - one for the light, one for the fan, and the rest for (apparently) decoration. So you find the right one fer the light, and when you go to bed you turn it off (duh). Then, in the middle of the night, you need to get up to take a pee. You make it to the bank of switches, and after a minute realize you can't find the one fer the light because the power has gone out. So you get into the bathroom & pee in the dark & then go back to bed. Sure enough, at four in the morning the power comes back on. And you know this because when you were trying to get the light on earlier when the power was out, you accidentally switched everything on. So now it's 4am & the light is on & the fan is spinning around above you. Nice.
The next day I woke up to the most fog I'd ever seen in India. Luckily for me, it never lifted - so I drove into the nearest town & found an Enfield dealership, driving slowly the whole way & continuing to freeze. After fussing with my carb for a minute at the shop, The bike once again didn't run at all. So I of course had to hang out for a few hours while they worked on it. Back on the road again, I headed for a town called Fatehpur Sikri, famous for having an abandoned city & an impressive mosque. I parked the bike & did some exploring, but had to leave before seeing the abandoned city, as I wanted to make sure to get to Agra before sundown. On the road from Fatehpur Sikri, I saw all these Indians with muzzled black bears on leashes. Apparently, these are trained dancing bears, and will dance for money. According to my guidebook, the bears are treated really badly, and travelers are encouraged not to stop for them. I have to admit, these bears looked miserable. For a country that has cows running around free all over the place because of their respect for them, it's sad to see how many other animals suffer abuse in one way or another.
So I arrive in Agra that evening, and by this time I'm getting pretty miserable. My bike has been giving me starting problems like crazy, I'm really, really cold (as I'd been out in the hot desert for so long), and here I was in a gigantic filthy industrial city faced with the prospect of trying to find a decent hotel amongst the madness. Every time I get in, or even a day away from, any big city here in India, I always hear little Ralphie Wiggum's voice in my head saying "India smells like burning!" Seriously, the Indian people will light *anything* on fire to stay warm, and there are fires everywhere when it's cold out. At one point between one of the many sets of horrible directions I was getting from some of the most unhelpful people I'd encountered in India, I managed to put my foot down in a giant pile of shit that *didn't* come from a vegetarian animal. I proceeded to get shit all over my foot peg, which in turn smeared it all over my pants leg each time I put my foot down in the constantly stop & go traffic. By the time I found my hotel I was properly pissed. Oh yay - look, my hotel room is about as cheerful as a cell on Alcatraz Island! Suffice it say, my stay in Agra was miserable. I was still cold, really depressed & lonely after days & days on the road, and just wanted to see the Taj Mahal & get the fuck out of there. The next day, I went to the Taj. One of the great things about India's most famous tourist attraction is that as the day progresses (especially at sunrise & sunset), the white marble of this massive monument changes color - from pink to red to purple to blue, etc. Well guess what? That's right, my entire time in Agra was cold & severely overcast, drenching the Taj Mahal in beautiful mix of grey & gloom. Nice. Regardless, I will tell you right here & now that for the few hours I spent at the Taj, I was relieved of my crappy mood. The Taj Mahal is truly worth all the praises that have been sung about it over the centuries. Walking up the promenade toward it (with about 500,000 other tourists), I was seriously in awe of it. Never has a man made monument taken my breath away as this one did. And considering the entire thing was built in memory of a lost wife, it's mucho romantic, too. Be still my little heart.
Ok, next day & I hightailed it out of Agra (renamed Agro in my book) & headed north to meet up with Britta - two days away in Rishikesh. With every kilometer I got away from Agro, my mood improved ever so slightly. As I passed through Deli, encountering more engine problems, I continued north & spent the night in a small city called Meerut. Right outside the nice hotel I stayed in was a huge clothing bazaar - I stocked up properly on cold weather gear. The next day I made it up to Rishikesh, met up with Britta and settled into the hotel where she was staying. It was christmas, and I felt SO much better. Rishikesh was made popular by having the Beatles hang out there in the late 60's, and it's obvious why. While most everywhere else I'd been in India was all about hustle & bustle (even Jaisalmer in comparison), Rishikesh was quite. It was mellow. It's the yoga capital of the world, and with good reason. Up in the mountains overlooking the clean waters of the northern Ganges river, Rishikesh & Britta & the friends she had made there was a much needed respite from the previous five days misery.
After a couple of restful days in Rishikesh, Britta & I headed north for Dharamsala, home of the exiled Dalai Lama of Tibet, as well as countless Tibetians. It took us four days of riding to get there, and it was the best motorcycling I've ever experienced. Twisty-turny roads climbing up & down mountains, stopping each night somewhere new, and having a fantastic time with Britta. Seriously, I had been worried about how we would get along once we hooked back up, and all my fears were laid to rest. After well pulled out of a town one morning called Shimla, I got my first ever view of the Himalayas. God damn that is one impressive mountain range. So now on top of all the fantastic views we were getting, the Himalayas would pop up every now & again. Beautiful! That day, I had my first (& hopefully last) spill on the bike. I was taking a turn, and hugging the edge of the road pretty closely (remember, Indians drive crazy, so you don't want to take wide turns, as you might meet up with someone coming the other way around a blind curve who just so happens to be driving in the middle of the road). Well, I hit a patch of dry dusty dirt on said hugged edge, and before I knew it I was sliding on my side into a ditch - instantly blinded by all the dust on the road that was now at eye level. Once I stopped, I jumped up, got the bike picked up & did a quick check for injury. Everything seemed ok, and there was a good rip on my right pants knee where my leg had taken the brunt of the fall for the rest of my body & the bike. At this point, I would like to thank Miss Iomi Bright Patten for insisting I bring knee pads with me to India. Without them, I'm sure I would be limping right now, or worse. So thanks darling. (and no, you are *not* allowed to say "I told you so"). Britta was waiting for me not too far ahead, and there I was able to do a better check for injury. Everything was fine except for a bruise inside my right thigh - which later on turned good n' ugly. And of course, a few more dents fer the old Enfield.
Despite the fall, I still felt great, and Britta & I continued toward Dharmasala, soaking up all the sights & feelings a great motorcycle ride can offer. We got to Dharamsala, and headed ten kilometers north to McLeod Ganj, where most of the Tibetian refugees hang out. Here in Mcleod Ganj Britta finally got word from Cov, and started thinking about heading down south to help with relief work. Seeing as how she's a trained medical professional (she's a PA - physician's assistant), this is the stuff she has trained for. So the next day, she decided to do it. So after a couple of days up here, Britta & I parted ways again. This time it sucked more than ever, because we were having such a good time, and this would be the end of our travels together (we had another two weeks planned with each other). But obviously, certain things in life take precedence, and I had to let her go. But it wasn't easy. And it helps to know that she's doing the right thing. Good luck Britta - I know yer gonna do great.
So here I am in McLeod Ganj. It's an amazing place where the atmosphere is way more Tibetan than Indian. The food is the best I've had in India, and there's Tibetan monks everywhere (although I have to admit, it's weird seeing a monk in all his robes wearing a hat with a Nike swoosh on it). It's been raining like crazy, but I've found some really cool people to hang out with - who also got to appreciate the Britta experience while she was here (so they are sympathetic to the big American being a crybaby). Today the rain stopped, and for the first time I got a good view of the Himalayas set against a clear, blue sky. Amazing, really. I'm all sad now writing about Britta leaving, but I know everything will be ok, and my India trip will continue to amaze & delight me. In a day or two, I'm going to head south again, this time to Varanasi - one of the most important pilgrimage sites for religious people in India (which would be everyone in India) set on the banks of the polluted yet holy Ganges. It should be a four or five day journey by motorcycle. After that, onto the temples of Khajuraho, and then north back to Delhi to return the motorcycle & head to Thailand. I've actually already extended my trip here in India by a week - to give enough time to complete the route I just mentioned without having to rush too much.
(the photo above is sunrise over the beautiful blue city of Jodhpur, taken from the roof of my hotel - click onnit, it's an awesome shot when enlarged)
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|more awesome storytellin man. got that pic of Jodhpur as my desktop foto now. fuckin gorgeous!|