Tuesday, December 7th
BikeShuffle: The Dandy Warhols – Boys Better
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.
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.