The man at customs asks if we have a camera or a phone? “Yes of course” then he asks us to list all our items and their value, he scrawls it down on a blank sheet of a4 paper, and then lets us pass. What on earth is he going to do with that list I wonder??
We’re walking down the street trying to ignore the rickshaw drivers in the most polite way possible… taxi taxi… a motorbike approaches and sounds his beefed up horn, continuously, he stops in the human traffic with the horn still screaming, it’s deafening, I turn and scream at him to stop. He looks surprised. No one else even heard it. He rides away looking back at me.
We’re riding behind a bus, holding our breath as the diesel fumes engulf us, two motorbikes pass us, then slow down, blocking us into the heat and smoke, they block our path so they can take our picture. Then they want to talk to us in the traffic. FFS.
After a traffic jam of more than one km, we pass four men who have stopped in a 4wd so 2 of them can take a piss on the street. Their car is in the middle of the road, other people blast their horns to no avail.
We’re riding on a narrow road, the oncoming lane is closed. In the remaining lane a bus comes the other way, another bus is overtaking it and then a motorbike tries to pass them both, all in one lane coming towards us. I see red as we narrowly miss a head on collision.
I’m tired, it’s the fifth hotel we’ve asked for a room, it’s obviously empty… “FULL” says the man at the counter, I shake my head and walk away.
“how much this bike?” for the 100th time today. “It’s 4 millions Quechadas” i reply (I’ve started inventing currencies as I don’t like this question). “How much rupias?” “I don’t know”
We sit at a roadside restaurant trying to work out what’s being served, a guy comes over and cheerily explains each dish to us, he doesn’t even work there.
In the midst of the grey smog, a dozen women in colourful saris are carrying bags of cement on their heads while fat men supervise the construction of the road. Next to these women, a group of wiry dusty men use hammers to manually break big stones into smaller stones to line the road with.
“Is there hot water?” The man silently waggles his head from side to side. We both smile. I repeat the question, he smiles again… We’re at 2300m altitude, it’s freezing and I’m filthy so I ask again, “do you have hot water”, this time slower. He smiles again and waggles his head. I’m trying not to get frustrated. “Is that Yes or No? Do you have hot water, yes or no?” He waggles his head again silently. It goes on and on. I still don’t know the answer, but i’m tired so pay the money for the room. Of course there is no hot water.
We round a bend, there’s a cow standing in the middle of the road so i need to swerve to miss it. This happens so often it isn’t even surprising.
I’m in a hotel room in the mountains, it’s cold but the ceiling fan is on max because our wet clothes are hung on every available handle, door knob and even the tv, we know they’ll still be wet in the morning.
We pull up in front of a hotel to ask about a room, it’s hot and late in the day, we’re both weary. The manager is standing outside, so I ask him how much his rooms cost. He tells me to come inside, but I don’t want to take off my helmet, gloves and earplugs, so I ask again “please, can you just tell me how much the rooms are first?” “come inside please” I sigh and get off the bike, take off my kit then walk to the counter “you look at room first” he barks an order to a boy and throws him a key. It has 312 written on it, third floor… My boots weigh 2kg each, the whole riding suit is something like 18kg, it’s hot and I don’t want to climb 3 flights of stairs just to see a room. I implore “please… first tell me your room rates?” “you look at room” “NO I DONT WANT TO SEE IT, how much?” “2500rp for budget room” I don’t even respond, we go to the next place where the scene repeats.
A man I called an hour earlier for some help comes to our room and enters without knocking, he’s drinking whiskey from a water bottle and smoking a cigarette. He treats me like I’m an old friend. We drive to the post office in his car, and then he takes me back to the room, promising to return tomorrow.
The sign says “BAR : No ladies allowed”
The park ranger asks me for 20rp to enter the park, I ask for a receipt and he laughs and unhitches the boom gate. We pass.
We park on the high street to eat some dinner, within minutes 100 young men are crowding around the bike, I return to find one sitting on it for a picture. I hiss and swear and he sulks away. Then the bike won’t start, what a nightmare. Eventually it fires and runs poorly on just one cylinder, we limp back to the room, it’s too dark to look at it now. Shit end to a shit day.
We flash past an opening in the roadside trees and out the corner of my eye I spot a big grey lump in the forest 50m away. I switch off the bike and we coast to a stop “what is it?” “I think I saw an elephant!” I roll the bike backwards to the clearing and there she is, eating away at the broad leaves growing there. As we get off and grab the camera, two cars pull up behind us and 9 men pile out, we’re photographing the elephant, and they’re photographing us! One of the guys drops his pants and takes a piss right there next to us. Unbelievable. The elephant moves and reveals a baby elephant behind her, it’s a gorgeous scene. We take some pictures and move on feeling very lucky to have seen them.
He scored 100% in his class, says his mother proudly. He’s only 10 years old, he has a brown belt at Karate, speaks Hindi, Tamil and English, and is learning the Tora self defence (uses a wooden staff spinning at light speed around his body). He checks us into the homestay, taking pictures of our passports with a mobile phone as his parents look on proudly. I ask for a lesson in the Tora, but he tells me that he needs permission from his instructor before he can teach, but his older brother can show me some moves J
The water is hot for the first time in a week, really hot. I turn on the cold, but it’s hot too. Both taps run really fucking hot water. I can’t wash because the water is too hot. Unbelievable.
We’re in a line for the bottle shop. It’s on the main road through town, with a narrow aisle leading to the counter, we’re funnelled in like animals in a cattle stall, between wire mesh walls. The other men in the line are pushing hard to get to the front counter. It’s not wide enough for anyone to get past, so i stand back one step not wanting to be part of the senseless crush in the narrow aisle. The man behind is looking at me, imploring me with crazed eyes to move forward, push forward, but I’m not going to. He’s agitated, trying to get past me but I hold my position, he’s clawing at the wire mesh nervously, looking at the crush and looking at me, he doesn’t seem to understand why I’m not part of it. It feels like we’re all drug addicts in line for our heroin fix. When I get back to our room with the beer, I knock it over and it smashes on the floor. Fuck. Our room smells like a brewery for the rest of the night. It’s actually kind of nice J
The end of a long day, our patience has been pushed. Bike parked, we approach a road side stall and stupidly point at pots boiling away on a kerosene stove. Smiling faces respond with language we don’t follow, but they explain the dishes as best we can understand. Their enthusiasm smiles and warmth dissolves the angst. Then they procure seats, other men stand so we can sit down to eat. They ask questions… from where… this bike how much cc… And the food is delicious. One of our dishes is empty but before we can ask for a top up, the other diners have already noticed and called the waiter to fill it for us. We pay and leave, “thank you, great food”. The cook pauses, makes eye contact with me and smiles warmly waggling his head. This is what it’s all about.