01/13/2014 – 193 days/18275 miles

Of the many unorganized traffic situations I’ve found myself in in India, I think the railroad crossings confuse me the most. When the barriers are down, I’m used to all the vehicles staying in their lane and forming a nice orderly line. In India, cars and motorcycles (and occasionally, buses) quickly fill the empty lane, meant for oncoming traffic. Shortly after both lanes are packed up against the barrier to the tracks, vehicles spill over onto the shoulders of the road, and if the landscape allows, sometimes they’ll spread out past the shoulders. Once the train has passed and everyone is free to continue on their way, you have an instant and unnecessary traffic jam on your hands. Motorcycles end up making their way through the oncoming clump of traffic first, usually by bypassing far off the road to the left side. As far as the cars, buses and trucks, I’m gone before they work things out, and I’m glad I don’t have to be present to experience the frustration.
Here’s a particularly mild example of the situation.

After Mcleodganj, I moved on to Mussoorie…another town in the mountains, with some great views.
IMG_4005           IMG_4023
From the high point in the town, you can catch a glimpse of some of the higher Himalayan peaks off in the distance.
Woke up to a bit of snowfall, but luckily that was the morning before I left town, so I dodged having to ride through any bad weather on my way out.
Typically, it’s just the Indian guys who are interested in my bike, but this monkey also seemed pretty intrigued.
I saw this sign in town…I think their translation could use a little work…

On my way from Mussoorie, I made a quick stop for lunch. This crowd of guys quickly gathered, interested in my bike.
At the same time, 4 women walked by, taking no interest in the bike, but curious about why this crazy guy was putting eyedrops in his eyes (I guess the roads were too dusty for my weak, delicate eyeballs). And one dog showed up, paying no attention to the bike or eyedrops, but was very interested in eating my leftover lunch.

The next day, I had an exhausting 11 hour ride to Varanasi. As physically and mentally exhausting as riding in India is on an average day, today was especially bad. For some reason, traffic was worse than usual…more cars were pulling out without looking for oncoming traffic, more vehicles were driving the wrong way down divided sections of roads, and I saw the aftermath of probably 7 or 8 accidents…a few rolled over trucks, a head on between two trucks, a head on between a truck and a SUV, and head on between a SUV and motorcycle..which sure contributed to making the day more stressful than usual.

Like yesterday, I made a quick lunch stop at a roadside stand that was selling samosas. When I finished the first one, I noticed a little pain by one of my molars. It felt a lot like when a popcorn hull gets stuck between your tooth and gums. So, I pick out whatever is causing the pain, and the first thing I think when I see it is that it looks like a bee stinger…a very small little sliver with a bit of a bulb shape at the non-sharp end…but of course I immediately dismiss that idea. I start in on my second samosa, and after one bite, I look down, and mixed in with the spiced potato goodness inside of it, I see four bees. Hungry as I was, there was no way in hell I was going to finish it.

When I finally got to Varanasi, I was exhausted from the really long day of riding, and really was just hoping to quickly get to my hotel. Unfortunately, the traffic was barely moving, and it took me an hour and a half to finish my last 6km. On top of that, the last few hundred meters was through a narrow and crowded alley. About 100m before my hotel, the alley got narrow enough that I couldn’t fit through with my panniers still on, so I had to stop and unload everything there. Once that was taken care of, I continued on down the alley, and again got stuck…this time I was about 10 feet from the entrance to the parking area, and the alley narrowed down to the point where my handlebars wouldn’t fit through.
So at this point, I turn the handlebars fully to one side, and recruit two guys at the hotel to come help me lift and drag the front end through the narrow alley.
FINALLY, the bike is parked and unloaded, and all I want to do to wrap up the day is clean and oil my chain. I go through the normal routine…put the bike in neutral, get it on the center stand, then start spinning the rear tire while spraying lube on the moving chain. The second time I grabbed the tire to give it another spin, I felt something wet…it didn’t take long to realize that I had rolled through a pile of cow shit while coming down the alley…awesome…
Thankfully, I had a little bit of scotch in my bag…a thorough hand washing, and 3 gulps of scotch was all it took to make everything right again.

Before going to bed, I walked down the alley to get a lassi (of the non-special variety). While sitting in the little shop, winding down, I heard some Hindi chanting coming from a ways down the alley, but obviously approaching. Within a few seconds, a group of about 10 guys walked by with a stretcher, carrying a dead body wrapped in bright orange and gold cloth, on their way to the Manikarnika Ghat to cremate the body. At this point, I don’t really know what to think anymore…time for bed…

23 thoughts on “01/13/2014 – 193 days/18275 miles

  1. That traffic jam is absolutely ridiculous. Guess it’s not selfish if everyone does it, right?

    Sorry about your long trip only getting longer the closer you got to the end.

    As for the samosas – I think that’s what they call “extra spicy”. What if you had been allergic to bees!? That would have closed your throat off in a SECOND!

    GAWD – nerves of steel on you, man. Keep it up!

  2. The bee bit terrified me, I swallowed one once and needed a hole made in my neck to breathe as it stung me in the throat! Discovered your blog today via r/motorcycles, really enjoying it. Did Nepal to Kerala in an autorickshaw and Bhutan on an Enfield, reading your stuff is bringing back great memories.

    • Whoa! That bee story is terrifying! Luckily I only got stung in the mouth!
      Did you rent the Enfield, or buy and sell it? I’d consider coming back to India sometime in the future to ride an Enfield for a couple months and would be interested in hearing people’s experiences with renting vs. buying/selling

      • I rented, and in retrospect I paid too much. But I was new to motorcycle touring abroad (still am) and also Bhutan has strict tourism laws that you might already know about – i.e. unless you’re one of a few local nationalities (Indian, Bangladeshi etc) you can’t just wander about on your own. You need to be part of a group, so I joined up with some people traversing the country and we rented from a guy in Calcutta, where we started. He arranged pick up from Sikkim, so we didn’t have to worry about getting them back either. I had a limited amount of time so was paying for that convenience too I guess. The autorickshaws we bought, (2 of them) and donated them to a school in Kerala at the end.

        I think next time I will do the buy/sell thing, if I travel for at least a month. Shorter than that, probably not worth it.

      • I think paying a little extra for the conveniences can be well worth it…in the end, you’re going on a trip to enjoy a new place and new experience…it would be a shame to ruin all that by spending all your time on logistics, etc.

        The auto rickshaw trip sounds great! I bet it was a ton of fun, and how awesome to help out a school at the same time.

        Thanks for the feedback!

      • PS read all your entries – great pictures and easy reading. Some people go overboard with praise or criticism, but I enjoyed the chilled out, minimal jibber jabber approach. I have similar views on India. Keep it up!

  3. Great posts Pat . May I suggest that you forward your stories and fotos to Horizons Unlimited . It’ s our MC bible of sorts for world travellers such as yourself . Good luck in your further travels . Willi

  4. Working my way through your blog – we can relate so much to your experiences in India! Railroad crossings are exactly the same here in Vietnam, and it definitely pays to be on bike for the quick getaway. We also get a fair amount of attention/interest, especially in the rural areas, maybe because I am a white woman riding my own bike? Or maybe b/c my husband is 6’3″ and has a big beard? Can’t sure for sure, but I’m almost certain it’s not because of the cheapo bikes.

    We have never done 11 hour days, but I can only imagine, especially when the mental exhaustion from dealing with traffic sets in. I think our longest day has been about 9.5 hours, and we got soaked from rain in the first hour. I swear, that 9.5 felt like 20 wet and cold. Managed to avoid cow shit so far, but we’ve driven through some pretty wet, thick mud about a foot and a half deep. We were so caked in mud, we were actually pretty surprised the hotel we showed up at didn’t turn us away.

    No bees in food (yet), and I hope never. I used to have nightmares about that kind of stuff as a kid. Shudder.

    Roebuck – curious about the Enfield in Bhutan. We were planning to skip Bhutan b/c we didn’t want to do the government dog and pony show. When you say joined up with a group, were you on an official tour? Would you be willing to share what kinds of costs you had, e.g. tour costs, lodging, Enfield rental? We are on a $50/day budget, so the $200/day for Bhutan would be a big spend for us. Thank you in advance!

  5. Well , obviously one adapts to IndIa’s insane traffic situation . The simple solution is to mimic what the locals are doing…..and even beat them at their game ……that is how I deal with it here in Thailand…here as well there are NO rules of the road and no enforced speed limits. To each his own is the way forward . Actually I have recently become the master , with no one ever gaining advantage for the most part .
    However this one day will change once police begin to really patrol the highways and get funding for radar units…..as I witnessed in the Ukraine some years ago . The crazy driving ceased promptly with immediate fines payable at the roadside . ! Not cheap either .
    But within the Buddist culture this is basically an impossibility from what I have observed . Same can be said for the Hindi .
    So the end of story is just rev your motor and go for any open lane ! It works fine here in Sawadee land !
    If on a moto just keep a helmet handy to avoid the 200 Bath fine .

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