Thursday, March 18, 2010



Pimples on the arse are the inevitable result of hours sweating on a bike seat. Germolene stops infection. 520 kilometers yesterday was too much. How do I feel this morning? Wrecked. I'll make do with 260 to Puri today where the revered Jagganath Temple attracts many thousands of Hindu pilgrims. A great beach and relaxed attitude to Bhang was the original attraction for backpackers. A rash of hotels and restaurants resulted. I am on the road by 8 a.m. and stop for breakfast at a truck driver's stop. The owner was a customs officer at Delhi airport for twelve years and speaks English. Where am I from? Where am I gong? How long have I been on the road? When will I go home? Am I married? Children? Grandchildren? Truck drivers listen as he translates my answers. What do the drivers earn? 8000 to 10000 rupees a month.


Another day on Highway 5 northward across the same flat countryside from Andra Pradesh into Orissa. Orissa is poor. Frighteningly poor. Depressing. The Highway is being widened. Ungraded dirt deviations bypass bridges and culverts under construction with one logjam after another as truck and bus drivers jostle senselessly for non-existence space. The setup on the Stunner is more pain-giving on bad roads than the Cargo I rode through the Americas. The seat angle throws the rider's weight forward onto his hands and I end a ten hour day at Srikakulam with bruised palms and a pain in the butt. The hotel is overpriced at 650 rupees. A dhossa for dinner at a workman's cafe costs 20. I set the kilometer trip to zero this morning. It registers 522, good going for an Oldie in his dotage.


I long to experience fresh territory and mountains. The North East States beckon, Darjeeling, Assam, Sikkim, perhaps Nagaland, then west again to Lucknow and north into Kashmir and Ladakh (if the road is open and snow-free).
Kolkata first. Bypassing Chenai takes three hours,then up National Highway 5, dual carriageway and a good surface with the usual crop of crashed trucks, countryside flat, mostly reaped rice paddy.The Honda cruises happily at 80 KPH and I manage 420 kilometers to a reasonable hotel in Vijayawada.



A German couple arrive at the Sunrise Guest House from an Ashram on the Holy Mountain. Merely breathing the same air as the Maharishi was an uplifting and joyous experience. No need for talk. Nor for teaching. The Maharishi's presence was sufficient. Mostly they meditated, surely a suitable holiday for a designer of state-of-the-art aircraft seats. He presumes that I must know which Holy Mountain and which Maharishi. Disabusing him would be impolite. He is a vegetarian. They run a vegetarian household. She eats steak when they eat out and teaches handicapped children. I suspect that she hopes for more than meditation in the future.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


I chat with a young Indian couple, university sudents, in the Internet cafe during one of many power cuts. They share a hotel room – they must be liberals. Or is this common amongst the young educated in India? Asking would be impolite.
She doesn't talk much. Embarrassed?
He is vocal. His father is a senior military officer. The student believes India has a great future. Central Government is building new power stations in every State. Power cuts will be history.
And Indian salaries are the fastest rising world-wide. The brain drain to the US will stop.
Corruption is the greatest problem. Corruption amongst politicians is endemic. We must change everything. He doesn't know how. Neither he nor any of his friends vote. They aren't interested in politics. However change will come from the people. The people vote.



A day with Royal Enfield and priority for any long-distance traveler is comfort and I've bounce-tested each model: 350 and 500, military, Classic, the new low rider, single seat and dual. My favourite? The big broad single saddle mounted on coil springs. .
My final conclusion: Enfields look and sound as a bike should. This, of course, is the opinion of a biker born before the war. I hear my four sons chant in unison, “Which war, Dad? The Boer War?” Not kind, but I'm accustomed to it.
I rode a BSA Bantam in the early fifties. Cops were called Bobbies and patrolled on silent water-cooled Velocettes. Vincents were power with speed. Sunbeams were deluxe touring. AJS, Norton, Triumph - all deceased and gone to Heaven. Royal Enfield in Reditch was a casualty. What miracle saved Royal Enfield here in Chenai?
“Why buy an Enfield?” is a reasonable question to ask Royal Enfield's marketing manager, Sachin.
Sachin's reply is as off-beat as hand spraying gas tanks. “There's no logical reason,” he says. “Enfields are heavy. They're slow. They are not fuel efficient.”
“India's Hog,” I suggest.
“Not so,” counters Sachin. “It doesn't matter where, Harleys always dominate. The Bullet becomes part of where ever it is.” Originally British as fish and chips, the Bullett is now quintessentially Indian. T India's most lethal beer is named after it, BULLETT SUPER STRONG, and in Rajastahn you'll find a temple dedicated to a Bullett. Remove it from the temple and it will be back by sunrise – so they say
“So it is romantic,” I insist. “The Morgan of the bike world.”
Again Sachin disagrees. Morgans are in a high price bracket, status symbols. Bullets are workhorses. A horse rider feels the muscles bunch and flow and listens to the rythm of the horse's breathing. The rider of the Bullet feels the beat of the engine and the slow glorious thump of the exhaust.
And that is the Bullet's magic.
Sachin, of course, will disagree. Magic has no place in his vocabulary – strange, as he is so obviously a romantic.


Determination to bring the writing up to date keeps me yoyoing for five days between a table on the roof-top restaurant at the Sunrise Guest House and an Internet cafe. The grass park below stretches some three hundred meters to the sea. I believe we camped in the palm trees to the left. We sat one morning on a stone ledge at the back of a temple cave and contemplated the God. Which God? I don't recall. Nor do I search. Memories are sufficient. A truck braked outside the cave. Four Japanese entered and set up lights and lighting screens and three canvas chairs one of which had DIRECTOR written in large square letters on the back. The Director arrived in a white Morris Ambassador (India's luxury car of the day). The Japanese filmed the God and left without once acknowledging our existence. Now stone walls protect caves and temples against future tsunamis. Buy a ticket to enter.


Foreign tourists were a rarity in India forty years ago. Hotels existed only in major cities and state capitals. Government officials on tour stayed in Government Rest Houses. Stay in a Rest House and you brought your own bedding (including the mattress). Government officers on tour were recognisable instantly by the bulky canvas bed roles on the roof rack. Our bedding was a fat, King-size, cotton-stuffed paliasse rolled in Afghan kilims. Vanessa and I would check with different Government Departments, Indian Civil, PWD, Railway, Forestry. No Rest House available, we rigged a mosquito net to a tree and unrolled the mattress.
My memories of Mamallapuram are of a small village on a dirt track, shore temples, a few fishing boats dragged up on the sand and not much else. The cook and the owner of The Sunrise Guest House confirm that there wasn't even a bus service. Vanessa and I camped in the first lines of palm trees above the beach. I remember a cool sea breeze after swimming and that we built a fire and grilled fresh fish over the embers.


Mamallapuram is crammed with foreign tourists, tourist touts and Sunday day trippers. Lonely Planet recommends Tina's Lodge. The proprietor shows me a single room down a dank dark corridor. Were it a jail cell prisoners would complain justifiably to the European Court of Human Rights. The so-called bathroom? Ugh! A young Israeli woman in a marginally better room laughs at the speed of my retreat. An even better room will be available tomorrow. The better room has a terrace that the breeze can't reach. I peer through the open door at a heat-haggard tourist sweating on the bed, remount and go exploring. The Sunrise Guest House isn't listed in the guide book. Maybe it is too distant from the main tourist strip for the Lonely Planet researcher to walk on a hot day. I am offered a room three times the size of the Tina prison cell. Both room and bathroom are spotless. Wall to wall windows face the park and the sea. Open the windows and a splendid sea breeze lifts the curtains. Same daily rate as the hell hole cell and with satellite TV. Climb stairs to the thatch-roof restaurant and I can plug the lap-top into a power point. Fried rice with calamari is good. What more could I want?


crash of the day

Finished with Goa so back to the present and Kodaikanal. Next stop. Mamallapuram, a backpacker and tourist haven for twenty years. Idiot that I am, I left my wonderful Eicher road atlas in the lobby of the J Heritage Hotel in Kodai. Why do I imagine that Mamallapuram is north of Chenai? I have bypassed Chenai and am heading for Kolkata before realising my error and head back south through the city. Chenai bus traffic is fearful even on a Sunday. All locals consulted on the route have difficulty in differentiating left from right. Ironic that a bus labeled as heading for Mamallapuram is my saviour. I follow out to the coast road.


Of Goa there are other memories. The young French heroin addict asking if she could shoot up in our bedroom at the house on Calangute beach. Vanessa and I were in bed. The French girl sat at the end of our mattress. I picture her now as she licked the needle as if it were her lover - I with a terror of needles. I was five years old when a course of injections killed my father. I overheard our nanny speak of it.
There was Slugs Jerry's tame guru who cured two Canadian girls of gonorrhea with prayer, meditation, herbal potions and the antibiotics secreted at the bottom of his Aruvedic medicine chest.
And trying to meet Blind George one perfect morning, he walking through the palm trees back from Baga beach, I walking in the other direction. George, with only 10% peripheral vision, faced 45 degrees from the direction of his walk and someone had fed me a powerful cookie for breakfast. Calculating a point of intersection was beyond me.
And of course the arrest of Caroline for nakedness on the beach and the gold smuggler paying her fine – but that story I wrote for The Lady magazine last month. It all happened forty years ago. Enough...
Except to thank Fiona and Paul for their company and for their kindness and generosity. Stray dogs are their normal house guests. A fat old snoring Brit on a bike was an extra.