Tuesday 13 August –On leaving the mice palace the very sweet man handed me a business card, it was most definitely not a picture of the place we stayed. It had been raining since the early hours, it stopped by the time we were leaving but the cloud lingered.
Just around the bend there were literally about 10 other choices of places to stay, ha. The rain started to fall and continued on and off all day.
Lalli had told us of a short cut road which skipped out Jammu and as it’s a bit off course anyway we planned to travel as he suggested. When we got to the junction we didn’t have an option anyway as the main road into Jammu was closed due to travel restriction imposed by the army because of recent shootings and unrest.
We expected the road back to be in good condition but this road was barely built. Plus we had to continuously stop to check we were going the right way as no road signs existed. The stop for directions resulted in all three women telling us three different directions.
Unconvinced when they all finally agreed on one way, we asked again, but this time opted for a lone man. The road was really crappy, huge pot holes everywhere, some of the biggest we have seen. So big that in places they spanned the whole width of the road. Only very small stretches were good enough to pick up any speed so the majority of the way was spent dodging the holes at no more than 10 mph, plus it was throwing it down. As the potholes filled with rain you could no longer judge the depth, so what may look like a shallow puddle sometimes immersed us upto our shins in a short fast drop.
It wasn’t much of a short cut after all, but the bumpy ride did make us very happy to see the smooth, level surface of highway one – the straight road back to Delhi. We passed an eerily quiet town for 3pm in the afternoon just as the skies started to open. Then I saw a whole mob being controlled by the police down one of the side alleys, not sure what was going on but it kept the roads clear. The rain quickly became torrential, with no drainage system the roads flood quickly too. This was the heaviest rain I have ever seen in my life but we tried to continue as there was no where really to shelter, then the bike gave up. We’d already put it through quite a lot on the ‘shortcut’ road but it finally bit the dust.
It would start just about but would cut out and come to a halt very soon after. We managed to find some tarpaulin shelter in another strangely deserted little town and waited until the rain died down a little. With no mechanic in sight, we had to push it until we came to one. This was in some place called Lakhenpur which had a massive river which marks the border region with Jammu and Kashmir, so we had to pass over a bridge that had conveniently become a car park for parked lorries waiting for the curfew to be lifted on Jammu, for us that meant pushing on the clear side and thus holding up traffic. We came to one guy who was just changing tyres but had a go anyway and soon concluded he couldn’t help – he could barely ride the motorbike when it took it for a test ride.
Then we got to the actual mechanic after pushing for a fair distance. He as suspected thought the heavy rain had caused various components to be too wet to function and tried using an airline to dry all the wires which are all so exposed on these bikes. He also was spending some time on ensuring the spark plug was totally dry and clean, though having two spare we suggested to just change to a brand new one. So he took it for a test ride and the problem was still there it was also backfiring heavily. Much to the amusement of the gawping crowd it backfired very loud at one point and I jumped. They couldn’t figure out the problem and said we needed to go to Enfield mechanic 10km up the road. Luckily the motorbike could move at a snail’s pace after sitting in the dry for a while.
We flagged someone down to ask directions just to make sure we were on the right track. He followed us for a little while like our little guardian angel then said he’d take us there. I’m glad he did as the sign was so small I would have definitely missed it then I would have been in trouble.
The shop was run by a man and his young apprentice, who is actually the one who does all the work. At first they started to play with the spark plug which we knew wasn’t the problem as it was just changed, they cleaned it anyway. Then the air filter – it was completely soaked. We were carrying a spare but turned out it was a spare for a different model. The mechanic didn’t have a new one, so instead took it out of one of his own bikes and gave it to us. It did the trick and we could finally get on our way. From breaking down to going again it took two hours – so it was 5pm when we set off, there was only two more hours of daylight left but with nearly 600km to Delhi and only one more day driving left we were keen to continue.
The reward for a tough day and not eating properly for a week was McDonalds for Paul, it appeared in the most unlikely of places, roadside in a rural area. But then came the usual non-sensical logic of one man on a mission. ‘Sir, please move bike’ even though the car park was empty. This happened two more times before he settled on the final position.
We made it to Daysu which was still over 400km away from Dehli but with highway one being the route back we knew we could cover most of that tomorrow. It was a pretty expensive £12 for the little dinghy room we stayed in but they had a captive market with us as it was dark and there was nothing else around.
Wednesday 14 August – It was a highway day all day today as we’re on a mission to get within 50km of Delhi so we can drive in really early the next day and avoid all traffic. That was the plan anyway.
The weather had other ideas. The torrential rains returned and therefore so do the mini floods on the roads. Plus poor road planning meant that often all the highway traffic merges with the traffic of the local city or town we’re passing though which brings everything to a halt as the roads are single lane and there often seemed to be no rules enforced at junctions so it was just a free for all. At one of these junctions a bus came sooo close, I could see the surprise and relief on his face that he hadn’t hit us.
The bright multi-coloured turbans are a sure sign that we’ve reached the Punjab region and despite the addition of noisy bat mobile looking rickshaw/buses, everything feels calmer.
The motorbike again had a problem though this time it was clear what the problem was, the clutch cable needed replacing. The weather had changed from rainy to boiling hot at this point. We stopped at the side of the highway just a little bit out of the traffic clogged city of Ludhiana, at what looked like a coach mechanic and we were about to drive off, until the friendly smile of elderly Sikh man appeared from the side and ushered us over. We had the right part this time so it didn’t take long to replace it, which required the removal of the tank. The Sikh man wasn’t the mechanic, but an overseer of sorts, although he seemed decidedly less knowledgeable than the actual mechanic maybe he was there for his charm. The cost was less than 50p and we were all waves when we setting off, but less than 100m down the road we came to a halt again.
We pushed it back, though rather embarrassingly our own doing as we’d both forgot to turn the fuel back on after he took off the tank. However we immediately jumped to conclusions and thought the bike was letting us down again, so without even checking. The mechanic amusingly just turned the fuel knob; we left a little rosy cheeked.
It ran perfectly after that and Paul’s confidence is restored after two days breaking down, he had however there was a loud noise at higher speeds, the mechanic had not tightened the petrol tank up and so it was rattling quite a lot so we had to screw that back up when we stopped. I think I mentioned Paul reliably informed me we wouldn’t be eating well in India. Not that McDonalds is by any means ‘eating well’ but it is more likely than the Dhaba’s to be void of food poising and have a certain hygiene level. We pass two on the opposite side of the highway then finally one appears on outside and it’s a perfect stopping point.
Even though McDonalds in India cater well for vegetarians I still don’t like eating it, I do however love the Ice-cream. I have a sweet tooth and would prefer dessert than lunch any day.
The road after McDonalds was much the same – highway which annoyingly kept merging with local town traffic but the rains returned and forced us to pull over to take shelter in a bus-stop come pig shed. Time had flown again today and it was 17.30 by this point so we needed to start looking for a hotel in the next hour. The hotel we stayed at was the only place we saw in the hour and half that followed. It was going dark when we arrived so it really was our only option. We made a decision quite a while ago under no circumstances will we drive in the dark – this rule especially to applied in India.
The grand maharajah doorman was a quick clue this was going to be a bit swanky. It was, but only 2000 rupees (about £20), pretty expensive for our budget but we enjoyed the luxury for one night. The owner proudly announced he studied in Birmingham and his words were ‘It was a beautiful place.’
Thursday 15 August – Leaving the luxury room and it’s soft mattress behind we were up early again for the final 50km into Delhi. We made it to Dehli in an hour, with not a clue where to go we drove straight at first and when we felt we were nearer stopped to ask a rickshaw to take us to the bike market and we follow. That genius idea went down the pan when the rickshaw broke down en-route. He said straight on, which was bull-shit and after 20 minutes we somehow appeared near Pahanganj where our hotel was. We abandoned the plan to take the bike straight back to Lalli and went directly to the hotel instead. Which, insight was a better plan anyway as it meant we could take-off the luggage.
Once unloaded, Paul headed back to the room for something and I waited next to the luggage free motorbike. As normal, a little girl approached me for money. I shook my head and indicated no money. She was having none of it. Knowing full well she didn’t understand me, I had a little conversation with her and explained I’m not the money keeper. She replied in Hindi which she also knew I didn’t understand. Normally after a few minutes the street kids would get bored and go onto the next white person. But she was sticking around. She pointed to my scarf “you really want this” I asked, she nodded. I liked the scarf alot. “It goes with everything, and has lots of purposes” is what I’ve been telling Paul as he hates the thing, probably as I wear it so much. Then Paul came down, phew I thought she’ll go now when we get on the bike. But she didn’t, she was still pointing at my scarf. Her little sad eyes, and crumbs in her hair made me crumble. I wrapped her in the multi-scarf and she looked so happy, that I quickly realised it was a very small loss for me but a massive gain for her. She was twirling around it as we drove off. It also made Paul very happy.
Around the corner we enlisted another rickshaw driver to act as our escort to follow to the bike market. I’d never paid attention to the directions previously so couldn’t remember the way. He got us there but everything was closed. Unlucky for us, today was Independence day so nearly everything was closed, including the Lalli’s. A quick call confirmed they were shut all day and we’d have to return tomorrow which screwed our plans up a little as we had planned to visit Paul’s family. I got us suitably lost on the way back, despite our hotel only being 10 minutes away from Lalli’s. It took us 45 minutes to get back and we ended up driving around the scrappy back streets on Pahanganj for most of that trying to find the right inlet for ‘Cottage Yes Please’
We spent the rest of the day doing things we needed to do like buying a better bag to carry our helmets in for the flight to Thailand. We enjoyed returning to same restaurant to eat – particularly Paul who was looking a bit emaciated after so little food for the last week.
Friday 16 August – We called Lalli to see if they could collect the bike as we continually keep getting lost in Delhi, especially with the insane amount of traffic. The rain however messed up that plan. Lalli understandably didn’t want to collect until the rains had stopped. It wasn’t showing any signs of stopping and we wanted to get on with our plans for today, so we ended up driving back and somehow managed to find it without any problem today.
Lalli’s team are just as thorough when we handed the bike back as they were when we took it. Even though we used spares we end up with more than the deposit back as they paid us for the fuel we put in – amazing service and the fact we barely had any problems except on the last leg, which only started fucking up after what we put it through. This is testament to Lalli’s skilled team and the great condition they keep them in, this bike has over 80’000km on it though it ran like new when we originally picked it up. They gave us a gift also, two Royal Enfield Caps.
We were now free and could go and meet Paul’s family that he has never met before. We popped in a sweet shop to buy some Burfi on the way over too. After a ride right over the other side of Delhi the rickshaw driver dropped us in the wrong area which we were clueless to, and therefore kept asking people if they knew where the building number was – which didn’t exist in the area and the reason we kept being sent in circles. After more than an hour and half walking in circles, we finally realised we were in the wrong block and had to walk 10 mins down the road. Once in the right area, we immediately found Ravvi’s house. Ravvi is Paul’s granddad Kris’ brother in law. Unfortunately he now lives on his own now after Kris’ sister passed away. He lives in a very nice place and even had a room set-up for us but we’d left all our stuff back over the other side of town, plus its a lot of dirty crap to bring into someone’s home.
Ravvi insisted he took us for dinner and en-route we stopped at Vijay’s place. Vijay is Paul’s grandad’s brother. It was like looking at Kris not only do they look the same but they have the same mannerisms and characters. He introduced his wife by announcing “This is my Mrs” probably learnt from his time in Wigan. As with all family occasions they wanted to feed us. First Burfi and then Samosas, after already having had a late lunch we were now full to the brim.
Then Vijay took us to Claridges hotel to eat, we felt more than a little under dressed for the occasion. Plus, the samosas we’d just been fed were enough for me for dinner. Ravi told us lots of funny stories and about where his work had taken him around the world. Though I could barely eat anything so the waiter put it in a doggy bag and I took it home, not that I could eat it when we got home. It was the one time we actually wanted to see a little hungry kid lurking around.
Tomorrow we’re off to meet Anil and his family. Anil is Paul’s granddad’s nephew.
Saturday 17 August – Anil sent his driver to collect us. I’m so glad he did – Anil’s place would have been even more of a mission than Ravi’s to find. Anil is a very successful freighting mogul with over 100 offices all across India and his house shows his success, complete with a pool, numerous cars and personal staff.
Anil arranged for his son’s wife to take us around for a bit. We visited the unseen India for us. A huge shopping mall on par with the luxury end of Westfield shopping mall. It had all the high end designers like Jimmy Choo, Gucci, Armani etc. We wandered around for a little while looking at the hugely expensive Indian designer shops who clothe the rich and famous. I had to draw the line at going into Louboutin in my flip flops. On the way back the stark contrast between rich and poor was right in front of us. We were sat in a Mercedes whilst a man approached the car cradling a little boy who was visibly very sick. Half his hair was missing and he had a drip coming from his head which would undoubtedly become septic.
Later on we were chatting to Anil’s son and his wife and hospitals came up in conversation. The thing which haunts me a little is that when she spoke of the public hospitals she remarked “don’t ever go as if you don’t die on the way there you’d certainly die whilst you were there”
Anil then arranged for us to go to a few monuments with his driver as a chauffeur. So we visited Qutub Minar, parliament and India gate but the downpours returned en-route to Parliament so we didn’t even get out of the car.
Back at Anil’s we were treated yet again to dinner. Which included wine, cheese and olives – our favourite. Sidharth’s young son had been shy with us at first but became more familiar later on and even held my hand, he was a bit reluctant to hug though. We spent most of the night chatting away, once again they had had a room set up for us in the pool house so we were a bit gutted that we didn’t bring our stuff to stay. Anil’s driver once again drove to the other side of Delhi to return us, it was a nice end to our stay in India.