Saturday, February 27, 2010


Back home I cross the hills to Malvern most days and swim at the Malvern Spa. Today I head for Malvan where I intend spending the night. Malvan is on the coast. It is reputed to have a fine beach. It is a few kilometers north of the Goa state boundary. Tomorrow I will ride up into the mountains to sleep in the cool of a little visited hill resort, Albi, from where a side road circles down to Goa's capital. Forty years have passed since I rented a small house in Goa, on Calangute Beach. Goa is full of ancient memories. I delay my arrival for fear of what I will discover, not so much in Goa as in myself. I was callous then. Callous and a coward. I had broken out of jail, on the run from a life sentence. My jailers were a wife I loved and two small children whom I adored. Did I think of them? Yes, often, and with tears. So why run?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I am an idiot. I have broken one of the cardinal rules. No excuses. And it might have killed me. It nearly did. The country road from the Janjira ferry connects with the N17 highway to Goa. The N17 is a great road for a biker, hill sections with luscious curves to lean in to, straight stretches shaded by overhanging trees, bridges over dream-land rivers and a good surface, great places to stop for coffee and a bowl of soup. Ratnagari is the only large town. To quote Lonely Planet, That's all that can be said for it. The town is fifteen Ks off the highway. Late afternoon and I ride midway through the outskirts for an ATM and a top-up for my mobile. Hotels are modern and probably expensive. I noticed a hotel at the highway intersection so I turn back. The hotel is a real dump. Check out a room and hear an anticipatory rustle from the bed bugs. I know that I should ride back into town but What the hell, there's bound to be something better and I ride on into the twilight. The next place, 10Ks on, is worse and night's fallen. I've been riding all day; my vizor's dirty and I'm blinded by oncoming traffic. Hill country and two buses race at me neck and neck uphill on a tight curve. No white line as a a guide and I can't see a damn thing. The front wheel kicks over a stone as I go off the road. Brake and I'm done for. The buses thunder by and I fight the bike back onto the black top. Luck saved me from hitting a tree or a rock. I'm scared shitless (as they say in impolite circles) and I'm cursing myself. 20 Ks to a small town with two small hotels. The hotels are either full or Reception hates my looks. My hands tremble as I drink a coffee and wash the visor and my spectacles. Better...
A further 15 Ks and there is a brand new hotel off to the left. So new that they haven't finished surfacing the approach road. This is a flash joint that has to be 2000 rupees a night. I'd pay 10000 to get off the road. The owner wears six chunky gold rings and a welcoming smile. The room has a/c, hot water, brilliant mattress and flat screen satellite TV with CNN and BBC. Dinner is chicken masala with both bismati rice and chapatis. Breakfast is included in the 600 rupee room rate! I lie in bed and call Bernadette. I don't mention riding by night or coming off the road. One near death experience is sufficient...

Monday, February 22, 2010


The country road from the Janjira ferry south twists through steep wooded hills and through river valleys – a glorious ride. I don't think of myself as a biker. I don't have the leathers or the decals. I've only changed a tyre once and I prefer to have a mechanic adjust the chain. It's not laziness nor incompetence, more that I enjoy watching a professional at his work and enjoy the usual crowd that frequent a bike mechanic's shop. I spent hours in Jaisalmer watching two Sikh brothers rebuild the motor on a 1960 Enfield. A few kicks and the motor started - splendid - and I ate dinner at their home a couple of times. The elder brother's wife speaks English and is studying business management at the University there.
This is beginning to read as an apology for enjoying myself. Not so. It's simply that I am surprised at the fun I get from biking (given that I don't think of myself as a biker), and given that most people on the road (foreign or Indian) think that my riding a bike round India is remarkable. Most are surprised that I've survived. True, I was in shock the first couple of weeks. India's traffic obeys neither laws nor logic, however it does have a rhythm – or that's what I feel. Get with the rhythm and you enjoy the ride. Or has the third fresh lime and soda gone to my head? Maybe I should stick with beer...


I have a great affection for ferries. The smaller the ferry, the more romantic. The Janjira ferry is a decked launch. Passengers sit on benches or on the roof. Eight motorbikes is the maximum wheeled cargo. Steep steps lead down to the quay. a narrow pathway bisects the steps. The angle of descent exceeds 45 degrees. The specialist from the ferry takes the bike keys and rides the bike down. Scary? Yes!
Four men lift the bike into the launch. The engineer starts the diesel engine and we thrum out to sea past fishing boats tugging at anchors. Heat haze softens the great grey fortification and makes of Janjira Fort a mirage floating on the water. Definitely romantic...and, as always on a boat or ship, we passengers, thrown together, fall into conversation. From where do I come? To where am I travelling? What of my family? So ask dark smiling friendly men, while I ask how the road is...
Mundane? Yes. But warming for a lone traveler, a charging of batteries that will last a day in the saddle.