-- Introduction to a 3rd World
-- Story by Erin --
It's day number 233 of our journey and we've
been in India for about 4 weeks now. We've seen Christmas and New Year's come and go
yet it feels like we are on a different planet somehow.
We arrived at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday,
December 9th in Mumbai (Bombay). Even at that wee hour of the morning you could feel
the heat and the humidity and knew the days would be mighty warm still in this part of
India. The better part of the first two days were spent trying to figure out who to
talk to and what procedures to follow in order to extricate the motorcycles from the
customs officials at the airport. We assumed it would take several days, so we set
ourselves up in a nice little dive of a hotel near the airport. We didn't spend all
of our time hassling with the bureaucracy though, the cargo/customs were closed for the
weekend so we managed to squeeze in a bit of sight-seeing.
In Bombay we saw the Gateway to India arch
(above), the Taj Mahal Hotel (the nicest in Mumbai), most of the Colaba and Fort sections
of the city (where the tourist books tell you to go), visited a Jain temple and made a
small offering, and strolled through the hanging gardens. Perhaps best of all we
tried our hand at navigating the rail system into the city and bargaining with the
The railroad has a reputation for being
overcrowded at any time of day with people literally clinging to the outside of the train,
2nd or 1st class it doesn't matter. Being from New York City we thought we could
take this on and we were right. No problems but no seats either on the train.
However the locals are all friendly, most speak English very well, and are always willing
to help out with information and directions. In dealing with the taxi/rickshaws you
just need to haggle with them. It's a supply and demand thing----too many of
"them" and not enough of "us". Eventually they give in.
So, we finally got our bikes released on
December 13th and headed down to Goa the next day -- Details of importing at the
bottom. Did I mention that Indian's drive on the left side of the road here?
Besides that little brain twister there is all of the other road hazards to watch out for,
like sacred cows, goats, dogs, little children, old folks, scooters, rickshaws, big trucks
and crazy bus drivers. When we arrived in Goa, our friend Christian Lehnen (from
Cologne, Germany) was already there. We originally met Christian on the internet (he
and Chris have the same motorbike), then spent some time together this past summer.
We told him about our plans for India, and as he's been 5 times before (using trains and
busses), he agreed to come join us. When he arrived in Goa, he arranged to rent a
350 Enfield "Bullet" for about $7/day.
We spent Christmas in Goa, 600kms
south of Mumbai, although not necessarily by choice. We were kind of stuck there
because Chris' GS was having some electrical problems. There could be worse places
to be stuck. The pace of life in Goa is perfect. No wonder so many hippies
came here in the 70's and never went home! The temperature was about 90+ F during
the day and the humidity was pretty high. The beach was about 500 meters away, white
sand, palm trees, and warm water. We spent our spare time (in between trying to fix
the GS) swimming in the Arabian Sea, drinking King Fisher beer, and eating fresh grilled
fish on the beach every night. We stayed in a nice little guest house called Savio's
Rest House for about $2.50/day. We even spent Christmas Eve going to midnight mass
with Savio's family at their church. On Christmas Day they prepared a special meal
and shared it with us. We really felt welcome and will never forget it.
We met lots of great people in Goa including
2 other RTW motorcyclists here in Goa: Liam from Belfast on a Honda Africa Twin; and
Mika from Germany on a Yamaha XT600. We shared stories and experiences, and plan to
see them in the future. We will probably see Liam again in Thailand and Australia
as his itinerary is similar to ours. Mika is first heading north to Russia and
Mongolia, and plans to be on the road for 5-6 years.
Okay, back the GS electrical problem. We
checked the usual culprits and had no luck in finding the problem. The locals are
good about these things, luckily for us so we had plenty of help (along with calls to/from
Al Jesse). After pulling the bike apart and testing pieces like the rotor,
stator, diode board, and voltage regulator with electricians in the area, we were down to
a wiring problem.
Finally we heard that the Hyundai car
dealership down the road had some really good mechanics and one of the local guys
personally introduced us to them. They worked on the bike for two and a half days
before we were ready to throw in the towel. At that point we had spent a full week
of our time that we had planned to spend travelling around India with Christian working on
the damn bike. At this point we decided to cut our losses and ride 2-up on my bike
and spend the next two and a half weeks seeing what we could see of the south. The
guys at the Hyundai dealership didn't want to give up however. So they convinced us
to leave the bike with them while we were away and they would continue to work on it.
We left Goa on the morning of December 28th
and drove over the Western Ghats (means steps in Hindi) toward our first destination,
Badami. We had heard that the road over the Ghats was is very bad shape but didn't
know just how bad until we got there. The worst of it was about a 20 km stretch of
chewed up pavement/ huge stones/ mega-potholes/ loose sand---definitely the worst we've
experienced so far.
After a bone-jarring day of riding 250 kms
(about 8 hours in the saddle) we finally arrived in Badami around 5:00 p.m. Badami
is a very small town at the foot of the Sandstone Ridge. It's got one main road
through town which is so dusty it's hard to imagine there is actually pavement under all
that dirt on the road! The attraction here are the many temples carved out of the
sandstone rock on the hill, the huge "tank" (or reservoir) built several hundred
years ago, the two forts, and the temple caves. We spent that first evening
wandering around the "tank" and admiring it's relative peace and tranquility
compared to the town below. We also wandered the narrow streets and alleyways
peering into doorways and stumbling upon quaint old courtyards filled with the local
domesticated animal life.
The next day we spent
exploring all of the temples, caves and one of the forts. It was so beautiful if
defies words. Here is also where we had our first encounter with monkeys-----loads
of them! These little rascals love to steal you fruit or small bags right out of
your hand. We took the advise of the local museum caretaker to walk always with a
good switch (stick) in our hand. Badami is wonderful in that it seems relatively
untouched by tourism. We felt like the only Western tourists in town, besides a few
bus loads of Indian tourists. The only negative thing I can say about this little
town is the non-stop assault by the small children asking us "What's your
name?", "What's your country?", "School pen, chocolate,
rupee????". It literally never ended. (Since then we've discovered this
is a widespread problem in India.) In 24 hours I must have shaken over 500 little
hands. I hope I don't come across as cynical but it is so distracting that you can't
enjoy the sights in peace and quiet contemplation (as they were meant for!) We did
meet many very friendly Indian's that were just curious as to where we had come
from---school teachers, retired folk from Bombay, honeymooners, etc.
We found that Indian's as a whole are a very
inquisitive people. One must redefine one's concept of "personal space".
Literally every time we stop to get off the bike there is an instant crowd around
us and the bike----sometimes as many as 50 people or more. We've actually been asked
by the local police a few times to move along because the crowds were blocking traffic!
It's such an odd phenomenon. I had read about other people's similar
experiences with this but never imagined what it was like until now. You have no
privacy. Everything exposed on the bike is free game to flip, turn, rotate and in
general be touched. We've even had a few bold young fellows hop on the bike while we
weren't looking just to see how the weight of it feels! Most people however just
cram around the bike to get a look at it and just stare at us. We now know what
animals in the zoo must feel like.
On December 30th, we arrived in Hampi, a
small city 350kms east of Goa with an impressive collection of temples which date back to
the 15th/16th centuries. Hampi is centered on an old bazaar, the old buildings of
which are still occupied by local merchants. Hampi is a bit of a "travelers
Mecca" and is a very laid back place. It's a well known Hippie hang out and you
see young people walking around in tie-dyed clothes, barefoot and hair in dread-locks.
But the best thing about Hampi are the vast numbers of temples and palaces to see
which are spread out along a 4 km stretch of land. The center of town is dominated
by a 52 meter high gopuram of a temple.
The 2 days we were in Hampi we
hiked to see the various temples, climbed a mountain to see the sunset, got lost in a big
banana field (where we saw a HUGE snake!), and took a relaxing ride in a "basket
boat" up along the river.
We rang in the new Millennium
in Hampi. New Years Eve may not have been filled with mayhem, but we met some new
friends and had a very memorable experience. We watched the local restaurant owner
and their family decorate the path in front of their house with colorful designs and New
Year's wishes. Although we didn't see the ball in Times Square drop (we haven't
watched TV in weeks) we had a 5 minute power outage at 12:02am, which created a bit of
amusement. Other than that, Y2K began without any major catastrophes and on a very
peaceful note indeed.
Our introduction to our first
real (third world is not very PC) developing country has proved to be a very enlightening
experience so far. Yes, there's lots of poverty and pollution, so much so you choke
on it sometimes. But this is a very beautiful country with lovely people and so much
promise for the future.