Monday, 24 November 2008

Ring of Fire and the Bollywood Extra

Since my last post I have traveled south through Jaipur and Udaipur down to Mumbai. Leaving Delhi was surprisingly easy. Another motorcyclist lead me to the main road leading south and sent me on my way before he turned around to carry on with his business. The road was pretty good. 3 and 2 lane highway for most of the ride to Jaipur. Not much to say about Jaipur, it was nice, had a nice fort and the hotel had a good spot for my bike. Almost forgot. Had the bike fully serviced in Delhi. Sparks, oil change, oil filter, new brake pads, new brake fluid, skimmed the rear disk, fixed all the electrics, put a switch in for my front light (FINALLY!!!), took all the body work off and replaced all the rubber mounting points so no more rattles and a new front tyre. The ride down was beautiful. The bike never felt so smooth and the brakes worked properly for probably the first time in 12k miles and as a final relief.... People stopped waving at me telling me my light was on! Happy days.

So I spent 2 nights in Jaipur before I got bored and headed to Udaipur. Again, good roads all the way. No potholes, no roadworks just traffic dodging. I'm getting a taste for undertaking and overtaking. Something primal, I think, like the thrill of the chase. Two lanes of traffic and a hard (is it soft when it is just mud?) shoulder gives plenty of opportunity to time a quick burst of power as you blast between two trucks or leave a cloud of dust behind you as you undertake a lorry and a car at the same time on the shoulder. 450Km later I was just outside Udaipur and it was dark. Why do I always arrive after dark? The streets around my hostel are a labyrinth but the Lonely Planet just shows one road. Eventually I find the hotel and ride into the courtyard. I get a room for 150Rs a night which is just a box with a bed, a fan and a mosquito net in it. Luxury!

I unpacked (threw a few things in my room) and went to the balcony which overlooks the lake. A few others were sitting down smoking and drinking so I joined them and tried too explain why I looked like I did but the explanation wasn't good enough. I was a mess and I am pretty sure I had developed a twitch in my left eye. Fortunately it was dark and my appearance was soon forgotten and we passed the night away in a haze of beer occasionally looking out over the lake and to the hotel in its center. It was beautiful, the white building lit up with yellow lights and reflecting off the black surface of the water and the sound of music playing quietly from the other side of the bridge.

In the morning I checked the view again. The hotel was still magnificent but there was a nasty smell I hadn't noticed the previous night and the water was green... Completely green! The growth was so thick it looked like you could walk on it. Over the course of the next day or two I noticed peddle boats getting completely stuck in it and that it harbored an incredible amount of plastic bottles and other rubbish. I will try to remember it by its night view but the smell wont ever go away! Crazy thing was we saw someone swimming in it and decided it had to be some suicide ritual. That water was completely stagnant.

I met with.... (aww dammit, I am crap at remembering names. Please don't be insulted if you are reading this. I'd forget my own name if it wasn't written on my bike!) Anyway, we had heard about a temple built entirely of marble and the guy who was telling us about it had plenty of good things to say (and I mean plenty) so after a breakfast of fried eggs on toast and a Banana Lassi (NOT a banana flavored dog but a rather delicious yogurt type drink which is slightly sour) we headed off in search of a taxi to take us to the Rankpur Jain temple. A bit of haggling and we were on our way, 1000Rs return trip, for a two hour trip into the country. When we arrived we headed straight for the canteen. 20Rs for all you can eat Thali. We ate. A lot. With nothing but our hands. Something really satisfying about grabbing a handful of rice in your hand, dipping it in curry and shovelling it down your throat. Giving cutlery the middle finger.

Some details on the temple. 1444 columns support the roof over 29 chambers. Each column is unique and carved entirely from milk white marble. The detail is incredible, they go so far as to carve eyes that are maybe a millimeter or two across. Everything about this place screams devotion. Built in the 1400s it is impossible to think how they erected such a building

Inside, each column is unique and it is obvious the craftsmen found it difficult to make 1444 unique columns. On some the only difference is the figures face in a different direction but the closer and longer you look you see the detail and the love that went into it. In one chamber there is a pyramid with elephants, lions and figures which tower up above you.

I wasn't allowed to take photos of the idols but they were crafted from the most perfect marble I have ever seen. One colour (does that make sense with marble?) and perfectly smooth sitting there with a content smile on his face. They were surrounded by the best carvings in the whole place.

This just shows you the detail of the work involved. It must have taken months or years just for that piece alone.

Outside the temple there was a smaller one which the local monkey population had taken over. I wanted to get real close for a photo but when I asked a guide if it was safe he said “yeah go as close as you like” I started walking “but it's your responsibility” I stopped walking.

They look and act very human. It's quite creepy. The older ones seem to sit around talking about the weather while the younger ones play in the trees and chase each other. We watched for a while and got as close as we dared before heading back to the taxi.

On the ride back we stopped for a drink and .... fell asleep. It was too bumpy for me so I watched the landscape change and took in the sites I would normally miss on the bike. I do try to prioritise looking at the road when I ride.

That night we met Claire (I remember a girls name, funny that.) who was staying in Udaipur for one month working as a volunteer at an animal sanctuary. Seems an odd way to spend time in India. She wasn't going to visit anywhere else but loved what she was doing. We also met up with Juilian who had been waiting for over a week for his laptop to arrive from France. We went to a rooftop restaurant called Ganesh and tried the local speciality “Bhang Lassi” which is supposed to be an alternative to weed but which tasted exactly like it (disgusting) and had no effect on any of us so we carried on drinking beer. I tried to remove the preservative glycerol (it gives you a crazy hangover from even 1 beer) from my beer using a trick in the LP which only went slightly wrong and I did avoid a headache so it was all good. And I met my first openly gay Indian, Dupak. He spoke the queens English and was, for India, very camp. He was also very obviously trying not to be Indian.

The next day was spent getting lost in town, reading, chatting and eating. I considered cleaning my bike and conveniently forgot about it. I was up early the following morning. Said my good-byes to everyone and hit the road for a gruelling 800km ride to Mumbai.

On rides that long different things go through my head. The first hour is wasted trying to get out of the city and the second hour is wasted trying to work out a schedule for the whole ride and it is a very complicated equation I run through to work it out but all that really matters is average speed and how often I will need to stop. Two hours in I had my first cig break. Around Ahmedabad (250km) the road turned into Indias first National Expressway. A long perfect stretch of tarmac heading south. I turned off the road I was on to the NE, reached the toll booth and got turned around by the guards. NO BIKES ALLOWED was the message. He told me to go on the road I had been on previously but that headed in the wrong direction. The toll booth had grass around the side of it and no fence so I went about 100 yards back and just blasted my way around. The worst he could do was call ahead and I doubted he would bother. The road was empty and I piled along at about 80 to make up for lost time. At this rate I would be in Mumbai an hour before darkness.

About 350km from Mumbai the road turned into a 350km long construction site and tailback. I rode until sunset and then further until it was dark and still further until it was outright dangerous so I gave up and found a hotel. I had been riding for over 12 hours and was still almost 200km from Mumbai. It was devastating and it made me realise how tight my schedule in India really is. As of today I have 3 weeks to get to Nepal and there is so much left to see. The hotel shower didn't work, the bed was hard and the mosquitoes got in. It was not a good nights sleep.

My plan to reach Mumbai in one day had been stupid. I didn't reach my hotel until 3pm the next day. This city is long. Really long and the tourist hotels are right at the bottom of the peninsula. 55% of Mumbai's population lives in the slums. One slum (the biggest in Asia) contains 1 million people in 1 square mile. I spent the day cleaning up and getting orientated in the city. The next day was spent buying a netbook (ASUS Eee PC 1000h) and playing with previously mentioned netbook. On the way back from the cafe a guy approached me and asked me if I wanted to be a Bollywood extra. I figured it was probably a con but he said there would be other Westerners so I agreed to meet him at 8am the next day.

So film making is really REALLY boring. It was a film about some guy who had killed his son in law or something like that. The scene we were filming he was standing on a podium giving a speech when he breaks down and admits it. Basically we sat in a conference room for hours on end while they filmed us. Occasionally they would pick one of us to stare at a spot next to the camera or give a reaction for a close up. My big scene was staring at a spot next to the camera and not move. The guy whispered in my ear what I had too do and then Vicky sitting behind me started kicking my chair asking what I had been told to do. All in all it was pretty boring and I had to wear a suit! It made me so happy I don't work in the film industry. They shoot one scene, move a plant pot slightly, shoot the scene again, move a chair an inch to the left and shoot it again and again and again.

They did feed us though (A spicy Thali) and I got 500Rs out of the deal. We even had our own assistant to goto the shops and buy anything we needed. After I got back to the hotel I planned to meet some of the other extras but I think I got the wrong restaurant and so ordered a Dum Aloo Punjabi (more spicy food) drank a beer and headed back to the hotel.

And this morning I am a first hand witness to the “Ring of fire” effect.

I am off to Pune tomorrow to meet the guys from BIKEindia before I head down to Goa to try and find Graham or Tino. I wont stay long. I have Lions to go see in the north of India and a plane to catch in Nepal. And as usual I have written way too much.


Andy said...

Bollywood eh? Hollywood next?!

We've got Asus Eees at work, they're really good.

Unlike your post, I'm short and too the point tonight ;-D

Anonymous said...

So, now you know about the oh so well known 'Ring of Fire' syndrome eh! also known as Ghandi's Revenge. Must have been difficult riding next day though!!!

Things are good here and worry not, your blogs are NEVER too long. They make really great reading, keep 'em coming!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ol
Another great report. We really look forward to another chapter in the "book"
I don't know how you manage to miss all these terrorist incidents. You always seem to be there before or you've just left. Just keep it that way and stay safe.
Love from all the family.

Unknown said...

Hey, I am to the point. It just happens to be a very long point!

The Eee is very good but battery life could be a bit better. Figure that will always be a complaint with laptops though.

Will let everyone know if any bikers were caught the the Bombay attacks. I met alot of westerners there and... well it aint worth thinking about because I will never know.