Intro: ¡Ay, Karnataka!

By the missus’ extremely good graces, i was allowed to gallivant across a fair old stretch of south India last week, notching up about 1,000 kilometers of bone-jarring goodness on a bike that is, miraculously, still intact (apart from four snapped spokes, some minor welding and much tightening of nuts).  Being of a fairly nerdy persuasion, i took the laptop and diddled away whenever anything struck me as odd, amusing or noteworthy. This turned out to be fairly often, and if nothing else, it fostered some fairly ridiculous scenes where whole crowds were jostling behind me to catch a glimpse over my shoulder of this wondrous device.

So, if you will indulge this experiment in serial posting, i’m going to try chucking that material up here at a rate of one day’s driving for each day of reality. I am a lazy sod after all, and this beats having to think up something new to say about it.

Those of you with only lukewarm enthusiasm for this plan need not worry, i am going to turn off the email notifications for this batch, which means you can enjoy the run up to Christmas without getting spammed into 2011.

So saddle up, y’all. Tomorrow we ride!
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South India Road Epic in a larger map

Day 1: The Excursion Diversion

December 3rd, 2010

BikeShuffle:  The Police – Walking in Your Footsteps

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Patnem

Following a new high in kiddie antics yesterday, I think the missus may have spotted a look of pain which got stuck on my face and didn’t come off.  She asked if perhaps the 20×7 childcare might be getting to me, just a little (i’m discounting Dumpie’s four hours of school).  From there, it was an amazingly quick and congenial discussion that, unbelievably, saw us decide that  I would drive up to Hampi this morning in order to scratch (and hopefully eradicate) the bike itch which has been plaguing me ever since we got back to Goa. Result!

So,  we’re looking at a rather involved scoot — about 370 km’s each way — not likely to be something that can be done in a single day.  This gives us a little bit of flexibility on routing, and rather than take the standard Highway 17 and 63 route, I think i’m going to go by way of the Anshi National Park.  Will be travelling minimal,  and with no spares or tools beyond my LeatherGirl it does mean that even small mechanical problems in the boondocks could prove to be a major headache (although I just know that cocktail fork is going to come in handy!).

Anshi National Park

Snake! Stretched out and sunning itself on a sharp turn.  Nearly spanning the road.  I thought it was a tree branch at first and lazily steered to the left to avoid it.  As I got closer I could make out the head, watching me, and then it gave the smallest slither to allow a small gap at the side for me for me to ride through.  Must have been over two metres, since there was very little road left, and he wasn’t even fully stretched out.

I found myself wondering whether they could strike fast enough to bite you if you drive over them.

Joida

“The Road has Fallen Apart….”

About 100k’s in, and still in the depths of the National Park.  The road has been varied to say the least, offering up some buttery surfaces that allow for fantastic glides through beautifully secluded stretches, and then, literally with a single turn, it goes completely rat shit for several kilometers.

After one particularly jagged section, I had to stop and to screw the two seat bolts in with pliers, where one had given away, and the other was loose to the point of falling off.  For twenty minuts i was sat in the middle of the road, with screaming jungle on all sides, and no one passed me.

I can’t help but think how similar, and yet different, this experience is to the schlep that Tash and I made across the entire country back in 1994.  For one, it would have been impossible to keep up a semi-ironic sms conversation with Johno in Sydney – he at a Citrix conference and me tooling around out the back of bejesus.  But today it seems almost normal.

I would also have felt stupid leaving anywhere to make this kind of journey with three pairs of skivvies, some bug spray and a lungi stuffed into a messenger bag.  But today, that is also the reality.  And if in 1994 I were to haul out my laptop to start tapping away….well, that could never have been a reality, actually, not on my budget.   The most portable word processor back then would have cost a bomb and probably wouldn’t have stood the jouncing too well .  Plus it would have started a riot.  Now, the local guys are standing quite casually behind me, looking over my shoulder pretending they can read what I’m writing.  ‘No biggie’ is the message intended by their careless demeanor.  ‘We’ve seen plenty of laptops.’  Still, I suspect it’s likely to be a scene that is repeated if I’m going to insist on typing in public.  The good news is that, thanks to PhotoBooth, everything that happens over your shoulder is open season.   Except – woops – they’ve already tired of me. Here’s a photo nonetheless.

the first of the laptop shots

Still looking a little shellshocked, I see.   A hundred Indian kilometers are rarely trivial.

And, here’s one the other way round.  A typical hotel scene that is  likely to be underway in a hundred thousand different places across the country.

Hubli –   The Mayuram Hotel

Happiness is making the effort to look at four different hotels at the end of a long day, only to find that they keep getting better and more affordably priced.  Have washed up at a place with a large television and cold showers, but conveniently placed beside all of the automotive shops and the stadium, which seems to be undergoing some sort of overhaul through the night.

I can’t believe how much more developed the town seems compared with the last time i was through here.  The streets are full of western-style shops and  nice cars and everyone i’ve spoken with seems to be sporting a large watch (no doubt of Chinese origin).  I have drawn a few protracted stares in the street (the kind of stop-what-you’re-doing-allow-your-mouth-to-fall-open kind that you only get in India) but this has been balanced by people i’ve talked to who are almost at pains to keep interest levels on the mild side. “Country name?” or one of its many variants is the preferred question to start the bidding.  Most people take a second to mull over ‘Canada’ (it can be a confusing answer since Kanada is also the name of the language here) but the guy selling hardware had distant relatives there (although he knew not where).  Hubli is one of the best examples i’ve encountered on the new Indian middle class.  Now, what the hell might they want to buy from me?

Otherwise, have spent a couple of happy hours buying tools (spanners, allen key, spare points) and making shims for my handlebars out of empty beer cans.

I had to empty the beer cans in order to get the metal to make the shims, which makes me  think I should probably head to bed before i dream up a repair that requires a bottle of whisky.

Day 2 – Hampi-Pampy meets Resurgent Canadiana

December 4th, 2010

BikeShuffle: Depeche Mode – Never Let Me Down

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Hubli – 06:52

I’ve been gently reminded that I went to bed a bit pissed last night by the university-style beer hangover that is alive and well behind my eyes.  This despite drinking a litre of water during the night.

Although the mind desires to get up, wash, eat something and start driving, the body is weak.  I feel defeated by even the horrible taste in my mouth.

Outside they’re blasting an air raid siren and I’m trying to decide if this is because it’s now 7 o’clock in the morning, or because I have had the strange misfortune to have left my family in Goa on the eve of  armageddon….

Last night over dinner, in what was quite a raucous ‘family’ restaurant and bar, I had one of those hilarious conversations – made even more so because we were both a little bit pissed – where neither person could understand a word the other was saying and yet were undeterred from trying.  He was a moustachioed office worker, enjoying dinner and a few whiskies before making the 60 kilometre trek to his home.  At his insistence, we did the full phone ritual – first he proudly gave me his number in English, then he had me call him so that my  number was on his phone, then he made me spell my  ‘good name’ so that would make no mistake about it.  I’m sure he keyed in ‘tourist’ to help his memory in the same way that I put ‘Hubli’ to aid mine.

Still can’t believe I am driving to Hampi. Having taken a day to get here, that means I’m going to be away for a minimum of five.  Five days!

Have been looking at the map and that old familiar feeling of ‘I wonder what it would be like to drive there….’ It has been getting even more insistent.  By the time I get to Hampi I will be more than halfway to the other coast.  That itself is a romantic concept, although my memories of the east coast are of a fairly desolate place.

I have to confess also that the romance of travelling through India in 2010 is slightly diminished from what we felt in 1994.  The country has changed massively.  Back then, people had a vague notion of the west from watching shows like Dallas all clustered around the village TV.  Now lots of people in India are quite publically living lives like the folk in Dallas, just updated. The most expensive house in the world –  a 27-storey tower for God’s sake – has just been completed in Mumbai.  It cost a billion to build and tens of thousands a month just to power up.  In this brave new age of Indian wealth, who the hell needs JR?

This country has arrived and it appears to be far more ready for the twenty-first century, than poor, depressed, snow- bound Britain.

Gadag – 10:40

I’m on a lonely stretch of highway 63 heading east after Gadag, not quite halfway to Hospet.  Despite the windblown emptiness of this place, I have to concede that nowhere in India is truly lonely.  There’s a guy tilling a patch of ground about a hundred meters from where I’m sitting and he was instantly fascinated by the biker tourist and his shiny silver laptop.  This despite the fact that I’ve tried to hide myself behind a bush, just off the road.  Typically, for India at least, there was someone occupying the narrow window of space that has a direct perspective on me and my hiding spot.  Our tilling friend has wasted little time in sending up a call of surprise, abandoning his two oxen and beckoning his friends. Now he’s heading on over.

Beside me the road continues to cough up an incredible variety of operators: cars, trucks vans, carts, three-wheelers, two-wheelers, bullock carts, bicycles, barefoot holy men, and of course, the real masters of the highway, itinerant cows.  All, including the mighty Tata, must yield to even the smallest cow.   There’s something vaguely admirable about that system.  Now, if only they could do something about the mountains of shit.

Ok. Our tilling friend is now standing over my shoulder watching me.  Let’s give PhotoBooth another whirl:

That hasn’t put him off in the slightest.  He’s now calling other people over and has sat down beside me.   I think that proves the point about loneliness fairly succinctly.  Doesn’t speak a word of anything but Kannada.  Not even Hindi, but it hasn’t stopped him from sitting beside me and looking on with naked fascination while keeping up a running commentary.

What is it in this culture that prevents the formation of any rigorous notions of privacy or personal space?  It’s probably also a class thing.  Like 95% of the people in this country, this guy is almost certainly living in a single room with at least five other people, and the only other thing he’s got to do with his time is till a patch of red dust with a pair of oxen (and even they look bored).  If the roles were reversed, I guess I would probably take a little time out if some alien being rolled into your dusty little patch.  And I probably wouldn’t let manners keep me from a front row seat either.

In the meantime, Dude’s mates have arrived. Time for another picture.

Five minutes on, they’re discussing me with through a laughing bristle of bad teeth.  One of them has spotted the gum in my bag and has tried to help himself.  ‘Tablets. Tablets.’ The others take up the chant, and I duly hand them one each.   I am given a slightly reproachful look in return. This is clearly too stingy a gift from a man of my means.

Might be time to shuffle down the road for another few klicks before things get sinister.  Will fix my wonky handlebars later.

Koppal: 13:12

Just called home to hear the latest Dumpie meltdown first hand.  Instantly felt guilty for whiling away my time in a fairly offhand fashion, buzzing down the road, ostensibly in search of truth, but, more often than not, with an empty head and a lopsided grin (although, having just encountered Billy Idol on shuffle, that sneering don of mid-eighties mediocrity,  hasten to add that it’s not a smile of the whiplash variety).

Perhaps owing to the meditative buzz of the motorcycle, I seem to have concluded on this latest leg that self criticism is actually one of my greatest indulgences.  After all, what is it but a continued recognition and obsession with self?  Doubting your self, your abilities or your motives actually fulfils the rather subtle trick of keeping yourself front and centre for much of the time.  The ego, while assaulted, is also massaged, in a kind of psycho-shiatsu combination that, over all, must feel quite pleasant.  Otherwise, we’d stop doing it.

Once i catch myself at it, I usually fall into the next trap of thinking about thinking.  At  every juncture I seem to want to remind myself, “Hey, by the way pal, have you noticed that you’re on to that thinking lark again?”  The ego, once aroused, loves nothing more than self-referential loop, and will always asserting itself when it feels its not getting a enough of a look in. Even if it needs to use a bit of loathing to get the point across. Then finally comes resentment — “Why do i always interrupt myself?”  It’s a bit like having an unco-operative clown of an uncle, forever standing in front of your camera when you’re trying to take a picture, when all you really want is to be left alone with the scenery.  If only I could break this loop, i just know the world would reveal itself as an even more beautiful place.  I always thought that meditation would hold the answers. But I have been inconsistent, and a little discouraged by the mass of just this kind of thinking that arises when you’re trying to quiet things down.  And of course,  hangovers like this morning’s don’t lend themselves to an awful lot of clear headedness.  Feels like this one is going to take more than a New Year’s resolution….

Hampi – Shanti Guest House – 17:41

After much palaver, and a ten kilometer column of creaking, dust-spewing  Tata’s queueing up to cross the Tungabhadra Dam, I finally arrived at Hampi, only to discover that my lack of passport could pose a serious problem (we haven’t even got to the missing bike papers yet). Have now gone to register with the police, and thankfully, they were more enthralled by my Mac than the lack of passport which it signified.  They looked on mystified as I copied details from a photograph of my passport which i happened to have kicking around in email, then they asked me how much I wanted to sell a) my laptop and b) the bike.  The guy most interested was the head, and seemingly only member of Hampi’s Crime Division.

On hearing that I had registered with the police, my very proper proprietor allowed me to check in, but insisted that I write ‘passport lost in Goa/ police informed’ on the form, which could, if the police are energetic, mean the saga has got a few more chapters in it.  Actually, looking at the words ‘police’ and ‘energetic’ in the same sentence have just made me feel a lot better about my chances.

Just now, I caught sight of myself in the tiny mirror of my tiny room:  I’ve been walking around talking to half the people in Hampi with enough grime on my face to make me look like a panto player.  Bless the guy in the shop. He didn’t bat an eyelid when I asked for soap.

So here I am ensconced in the smallest and cheapest room I saw in at least five hotels, but which, for some reason, appealed to me the most.  Perhaps it was the tiny tin desk.  Am completing the nostalgic effect by listening to the Payola$, something i last did even further back than my last arrival at Hampi by Enfield.

And, with that difficult sentence behind me, I’m retiring to scrub up.

Abed

Tucked up in a bed that’s at least several sizes too small under a meagre bit of mosquito netting and listening to the Payola$ (again) while slogging through the Count of Monte Cristo on Kindle for Mac.  Like the addict I am, i’ve got Eyes of a Stranger on repeat.  Ok, so it is very much a Police rip off, with the reggae beat, chorus guitar, synth pads and shouty vocals.  But it works. In my biked-out and squished up state, it’s proving to be quite a delicious concoction, especially as they indulge in some heavy, dub-style delay – something the Police didn’t do so much of (Andy was a clean freak).

The  sound is such a signature of my misspent youth, and it’s been such a long time since I heard it.  Cue nostalgia,  with the smell of a damp boarding room hallway leading the charge.  It’s all flooding back. The 80’s.  That feeling of being young and on the margins.  Watching with big eyes as the older kids got to have all the fun.

What else from this era?  Flock of Seagulls, maybe Howard Jones, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Split Enz, all framed with a slight uneasiness that I will attribute to The Omen movies.  Then there were  all the other CanCon groups who were darlings of Canadian radio but who never seemed to make it any further.  Arise Loverboy, Spoons, Gowan, Frozen Ghost, the Pursuit of Happiness….what forlorn suburban intersection do you now inhabit?  Given the general gnarliness of Anvil, it’s clear that the suburbs of Canada continue to produced something unique, delicate and special.  What a shame that they are doomed to such a forsaken corner of the musical landscape.

I would pay good money to see the kind of rockumentary that dug up everyone from the old guard, poured a few beers into them, then teased out on camera details of their tragic lives while documenting the full extent of their hair loss.   And  I know at least ten other people who would do the same.  It really feels like i ‘m on to something here….

Day 3 – Ruinous Ruminations

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Today’s Soundtrack: Payola$ – Eyes of a Stranger

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Planning 07:30

Spent a strange night of semi-wakefulness, with Eyes of a Stranger on permanent loop in my brain. The courtyard outside my room was lit with a fluorescent light that made me think it was always dawn. Twice I was bitten through the mosquito net on the foot. It was so painful and took so long to subside that I found myself working a huge, knife-wilding mosquito into my dreams. He was waiting for another crack at my toe with the patience of a master burglar.

At Shanti Guesthouse the tourists are beginning to stir, and I’ve just heard the first horn honk of the morning. Since most of the rooms here are without showers, there’s been a fair bit of wobbly flesh on display as people stagger around with towels and toothbrushes using the shared facillities. Is it because the Indians have already been up for at least an hour at this point that they look so much better put together?   Even though there is technically no booze in this town, the Westerners still look a little shellshocked at finding themselves awake and in Hampi.  Seven o’clock arrives like the start of a race, and suddenly everyone is up and doing things – sweeping, honking, doing that really loud yogic throat clearing thing that sounds like a slow and painful death. It is a show of instant readiness.

I too am a little shellshocked. My eyes have the shadowy look of an undergraduate at finals time; even after I’ve scrubbed off the soot from the road. Can it be that I’ve undone myself with a few too many nips on the whisky I’ve been using as a pothole countermeasure? I’ve got Ian to thank for that particular technique.

So, it occurred to me last night that we were here eight years ago in 2002, and then eight years before that in 1994. It has a kind of biblical symmetry. Means we’ll have to come back in 2018, at the age of forty-seven. Sobering.

For some reason, it seems like you can still get away with this kind of irresponsibility at thirty-nine. My mother intimated as much on the phone last night along with the subtle suggestion that, in one’s forties, perhaps one ought to be doing something a little more worthwhile. I asked what that might be, and we, all three of us, as my dad was on the line, hastened to change the subject.

So today. What of it? I’ve been gazing at the map longingly again. Thought I would have had that knocked out of me, but it would appear not. The route that seems to be calling out to me is a triangle down to Udupi and then back up the NH17 to Goa. I’ve always liked triangles. They seem to confer purpose where perhaps there isn’t any. I don’t feel like rolling back down that same road through Gadag and so on, so maybe a triangle it is.

Problem is, we’re looking at another two days down to Udupi at least. And, if I was going to make it up the coast from Udupi to goa, that would be twelve hours of driving. But it does seem to be the coolest route that I can cobble together from where I am. It just means being gone for a fucking long time. A week, if I were to leave tomorrow. Can’t see that going down well…although as an idea, it’s gaining momentum.

  • Hospet to Chitradurga:       92
  • Chitradurga – Shimoga:       115
  • Shimoga – Someshav:            89
  • Someshav – Udupi:            49

= 358 km’s. almost exactly the same as this leg. And bound to be easier given the NH factor hmmm….

Udupi to goa?

Could probably be done in a day if a shove came to a push.

Would probably mean getting right back on it tomorrow….

The Mango Leaf

A lovely (if flyblown) breakfast with cool, hazy views over the Tungabhadra River, easing itself through the boulder-strewn valley that it has spent a lifetime creating.

Speaking just now to Raju from Tirupati and his advice is to check out the caves at Badami, some 140kms to the north. Although this sounds like interesting advice, I can picture a scene, arriving hot, dusty and disappointed by the utter ordinariness of the site. How many times have I travelled many leagues only to gaze at some wondrous sight for a few moments, only to retire to food, beer drinking and the like.   For me, the trip is the drive, and I can already feel the momentum for the Udupi triangle building. (with the benefit of a) hindsight and b) the internet, it looks like I was pretty darn wrong about the impressiveness of the Badami Caves. ed.)

Vittal Temple Complex : 15:01

Strange that I only discover this place on my third visit to Hampi. It’s immense. I think we make it pretty close last time we were here, then we got distracted by something (it was either swimming in the river, or smoking something – possibly both), and that was that.

I’m now sat atop the stone roofs of some ancient stalls which run down the length of the main temple. Looking inside I can see Indian tourists crawling over the various monuments in vast numbers. From what I can see, they are allowed to enter for free. The cost for foreign tourists is 250 rupees. Thankfully, I ran into Giri, who sold me a map and a guidebook for 20 rupees and pointed out the overgrown path that leads up here, affording a lovely view of the stone chariot that I’d really wanted to see. And, provided I don’t break my neck or my laptop on the descent: all for the kind of very low price which I am developing a fondness for.

Travelling with children, you just expect to haemorrhage money and bear it with good humour. While travelling alone, you take a small delight in the little savings you make here and there. For example, the good-natured haggle I had over lunch, when the small chai stand tried to hit me for sixty rupees for two plates of idli, some fried chillies and a cup of tea (I was hungry). Having watched a number of transactions in coinage, I was a little surprised by what, by Indian standards, is a whopping tab (by Western standards, it’s 90p). More interested than anything, i asked the prices for each item, and, even allowing for a 15 rupee cup of tea (outrageous!), they couldn’t get things to add up to sixty. It didn’t help that I had clocked the guy before me paying ten for his idli. When I pointed this out, the chai lady held up her hands with a laugh and looked at her husband, as though to say ‘the stupid tourist isn’t quite as stupid as we thought!’ and then refunded me fifty from a hundred. Rather than feel like I hassled some poor people out of ten rupees they could have used (which may have been closer to the truth), I walked away a little bit chuffed at successfully dodging the bumbling idiot label that they seemed so eager to stick me with.

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Shanti Guest House: 22:42

That rarest of al things: a night to myself with no beer, web or child-shaped diversions (it turns out that beer is illegal in Hampi since it became a World Heritage Site four years ago) and there’s just the one street to roam in. It all makes for a pretty chilled end to one of the loveliest days in recent memory.

Following on from Vittal, I took a left out of the complex and pootled down some back roads through mounds of shattered red boulders. After a few wrong turns up gravel roads and into banana fields(encouraged by a local shepherd woman) I finally emerged at a nameless village and took a right back towards Hampi, which I knew to be about ten or fifteen kilometers away.

About halfway back, I saw a sign for a Hanuman temple up a steep hill and decided to take my chances. As the sun began to sink, and the colours bled to red, I sat on the stone floor of the temple and was lost for a time in the devotional songs of some dueling vocalists, who were putting on a performance several hours in duration for an elderly lady, myself and whatever gods happened to be calling in at that point. Then I wandered over to talk to a rather crazed looking chubby Baba who kept his trident neatly rolled in a felt sleeve. He pointed at me and laughed with his friends, then abruptly called for tea for all of us and lost interest, falling silent and sitting like a pyramid on beefy buttocks. Just as I was about to leave one of the sadhus pointed to the back of the temple and simply said “sunset point?”

I followed his finger up the hill behind the temple and through a tiny gate in the surrounding white wall. I was instantly greeted by a sadhu with a misshapen back and another who was tending a tiny shiva temple hewn out of the rock. I got the impression this was the real temple, and the one with the music and the offerings and the noise was just some kind of cover.

After going through the usual address exchange, gift to the God, and the like, I was free to roam the hillside, which was bathed in the orange light of the setting sun and afforded views over all the surrounding countryside.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon there, only coming down when the sun had almost set. And thence to a dinner of momos, a single contraband rum and coke, and the Count of Monte Cristo.

Day 4 – Perpetual Maintenance

Monday, December 6th

Today’s Soundtrack: Herbert – So Now

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Morning

A better sleep than the last, now that I have learned the trick of tucking in my only bed sheet at the bottom to protect my feet from the mosquito’s searching proboscis. And my dreams, though they linger before my eyes when I close them, refuse to congeal into anything which I can relate.

What of today then? I have a shopping list of errands which will no doubt arrange themselves nicely: welding, washing, shopping, internetting (my spell check rightly pulls me up on that last). And of course, I should do some work this morning, that I might feel that all is not a leisurely dalliance.

The amount of birdsong in this places verges on outrageous. There are so many, it feels as though every point in the stereo image is occupied by a little tweeter.

To breakfast then.…

Afternoon

A strange day spent on bike repair, washing and riding around in the countryside outside Kamalapur. I’ve realized that this is quickly reverting to the perpetual maintenance mode that we had with the bike last time round, and in fact, I think that would be a worthy title to any account of Enfield-based travel around India: Perpetual Maintenance. That is inevitably how you spend a good portion of your time. Of today’s two repairs, welding the seat frame and fixing the foot pegs more firmly, only the former held up for more than ten minuts. The latter situation is as bad as it was, and the side stand has decided to add another fifteen degrees of lean when parked, meaning a collapse is soon likely.

Additionally, I’ve only just noticed two broken spokes on the non-drive side of the rear wheel, so today has actually ended off worse than it began from a maintenance perspective.

The afternoon also took on a slightly melancholy air. Driving around outside of Kamalapura, waiting for the power to come back on so they could wash my bike (it never did), I passed settlements, huts, forlorn communities living in dust bowls. Rows of concrete houses creating lanes and neighbourhoods where there were no towns. It was somber and quietly incredible. I keep find myself wondering if there is a universal truth that applies to these people, and to me, and to everything in between. No commonly accepted view of god seems to fit. It’s all too culturally specific. The idea of Providence also seems difficult to apply in these circumstances:   what plan does He have for these poor people living in penury, pounding their clothes on river rocks and crowding around a single television?

I know the sense of their obscurity travels with me — it is subjective — the same as their sense of my strangeness is their own product. But is there anything to bridge these worlds? This seems to be a question to which I always return, and which no religion will ever be able to adequately answer, since it will only put forward the view that legitimises itself.

It is a question for the spirit; and mine is keeping strangely silent. Perhaps, in a way, that points the way to an answer.

Day 5 – Doing the Shimoga Shuffle

Tuesday, December 7th

BikeShuffle: The Dandy Warhols – Boys Better

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6:13

Just waiting for it to get light, before trying to take as big a bite as possible out of this one. The most salient question seems to be: how long to stay on the NH13? I think I’ve resolved to hit the back roads where I can, and I guess I will have two cracks at it, heading for Kotturu either from the nameless crossroads about 10k south of Hospet, or a further fifteen or south at Kudigli. Then it becomes similar to day 1: driving by brail. I expect the laptop to be out and marked with greasy thumbprints by the end of the day.

Still, the back roads have to be superior to the Tata dueling and massive potholes you seem to find on the National Highways (outside of my beloved 17, of course).

I think Shimoga is a best case outcome. Not really sure how far that is. 200 and some. Getting eaten by mosquitoes and have decided not to have a shower. Too fucking cold.

Happy Birthday to Stewart Macmillan and the King twins, by the way. Strange the ones you remember when you’re a million miles from Facebook. And then there was Pearl Harbour. We’ll see if I manage to get on line at all in the next few days to bestow those felicitations.

Ahoy!

Hagaribommanahalli 09:24

This really is nowhere. Except that tons of people live here. Perhaps it’s the cold weather and cloudy skies, and the copious amount of dust in the air, but it feels so forlorn.

I was saved from the hell in road form that is the NH13 by, first a nice policeman near Munirabad who told me I was going the wrong way, and then, after forty-five minutes of bone jarring, bikebreaking potholes, I was able to make a most welcome right on to National Hightway 25, which, by comparison, is like the sweet tickle of an angle’s eyelashes.

Riding through a smaller town earlier, I was struck by two images of children. One, a tiny little girl of about four, with her hair bobbed, in a school uniform that included a rucksack nearly half her size. Even in passing I was struck by the sheer glow and excitement that seemed to radiate from her face while she watched some of the big kids do something very ordinary. I thought how new and exciting everything is when you’re that small, and how the feeling only leaves you when you have started to get properly pummeled by life’s monotonies.

The next girl I passed, literally seconds later, was crouched in the dust only inches from the road, her hands held over her face as she made a neat pile of shit beneath her.

Harihar – 12:15

Surreal scenes are everywhere.

Stopped now, just passed NH4, to have some idli and wipe the grit from out the corner of my eyes. And I just have to keep taking photographs, which I suspect, will not convey the feeling I get from some of these scenes.

Here at the chai stand, they are building an additional wall. The window is already in, and the proprietor is slinging the concrete bricks to the mason in between serving people with idli and sambal. His mouth is working convulsively on a massive pan, and his teeth are the red stumps of the betel addict.

The usual scrum have formed around me and my laptop:

Prasad, the sticker salesman, has spotted the camera on my mac and is busy explaining it to the rest of the crew. You can’t help but wonder how much natural intelligence is buried out here, with no hope of an education or application.

Have just smoked my first bidi in what feels like a lifetime. Tobacco is an occasional weakness, but I’m rationalizing it as a way to recreate the sensations of our road trip from sixteen years ago. With an accompanying cup of hot chai (more like a thimbleful, but thankfully so, given the sugar content), I can almost conjure it up. The picture would be complete if I wasn’t so crap at accents, and could produce a reasonable version of Dan’s welsh lilt. Unfortunately, as Tash will attest, any accent i try to impersonate becomes a strange mix of Indian and Mexican by the second sentence.

A group of men are lifting a heard of goats bodily into a Tata truck that is already carrying a full load of corrugated tin.   The goats have fluorescent ribbons tied to each of their horns, and seem to be quite happy to become part of such an undignified cargo, climbing over each other in their eagerness to get on the truck. The men are sparing small consideration, and the herd has been loaded up like so many sacks.

Now I’m being offered some latex stickers affixed to the rims of my front wheel for IR400. WTF! A novelty that I might tolerate for 50 rupees, but the guy is outrageous in assuming I want such a thing for (now) 300 rupees.

Meanwhile, the chai man’s wall grows ever higher. I suspect this is how days tend to get filled: small projects undertaken with little thought of what went before or what comes after, a perpetual and thoughtless adding-on that maybe explains the hundreds of half-finished and abandoned buildings I’ve passed this morning alone.

Strange that such an ancient place should persist in being so short-term.

Holalur – 14:10

I’ve been let down by the State Highway 25 in a big way. Here I was thinking that, if I had any more children, then SH25 would be in with a shout as far as names go, but now, forty km’s short of Shimoga, all is rubble and despair. I’m surprised the bike continues to function. I guess I’ll have to abandon plans to give it a name as well, since anything capable of carrying a name would have told me to go fuck myself by now.

Up until the disappearance of anything recognisable as a road, it has been a brilliant drive. I suspect I’m getting addicted to the ‘astonished look.’ I’ve had at least a thousand of them today. It’s my main diversion while riding through some of these obscure places. Pick a face, observe the point at which they clock you, then count how long before either a) the jaw drops b) the eyes go wide c) they begin to gesticulate madly for their friends to check out the motorcycle-born freakshow d) they shout something incoherent, or e) all of the above.

There are something like 26 combination of those options. Damn. I feel a scattergraph coming on.

Oops, more visitors:

Here’s another question: do I go 90kms out of the way to see Jog Falls, the 313th highest waterfall in the world, but the one that everyone seems to want to talk about (i.e. the highest ‘plunge waterfall’ in India), or to keep relatively on track and go see the hitherto unknown, but much more higher Kunchikal Falls, which is near Agumbe, on the the NH13 (I can only hope it has cleaned up its act by this point). One for whatever hospitable hotelier I encounter in Shimoga.And another!

Samarat Ahsoka Lodge – Shivamoga 16:27

Wikipedia asserts that Shivamoga is the cultural capital of Karnataka. Cultural capital? It’s a fucking shithole! Everything resembling a main street has been ripped up, and there’s no indication that anyone is doing anything to put it back together again.

I drove through the car district (broken engines in the street), the mobile phone district (masses of derelict bikes, more broken engines) and the BH Road, which is supposed to be the main shopping district (impassible dust pit, torn asunder with no one working on it).

Amazingly, this is the third lodge I’ve enquired at, the other two being full.

At 16:35 I have but three objectives. 1) Get Clean. This could take longer than you might initially suspect. The dust in my eyes is now complaining of being dusty. 2) Get Fed. There’s a hotel (i.e. ‘restaurant’) downstairs. We know that routine well enough by now: Thali, soda, chai. that will be 70 of your english pence. 3) Establish where to go tomorrow – Jog falls and round to Udupi, or keep it to a more direct route and head for Kunchikal falls.

That’s not a lot of stuff to do with sixteen hours to kill.

Under cover of the Night: 19:07

Unlike the times where I’m sat on top of a shiny purple racket, tonight I was able to walk the streets of Shivamoga, for the most part, undetected. So long as I didn’t hold anyone’s eye, I was able to slip through the crowd in the sinking dusk just like a local. After a day of being the main attraction wherever I stopped, it was a welcome relief.

True, I was caught a few times taking photos, but, for the most part, it was a lengthy stint of welcome anonymity, followed by oblivion.