India has come and gone.
Over 3 months I've spent rambling from one magical place to the next.
The whole time being just as confused and overwhelmed as I was when I first set foot in the sub-continent. Not to mention having no idea what I'm doing, or what lies ahead of me on my path.
The first week or two I second guessed my decision to come to India at least twice a day.
But then, just as you feel ready to pack it in and book your return flight; you find a spark.
Nothing much, but just enough to hold you here that little bit longer.
And then, just like that, through all the sickness; through all the manic situations I've found myself in. Through all the monster long days getting lost and frustrated that I couldn't even ask for the most basic things.
I land in Nepal. With new adventures ahead of me.
I've twisted and turned my way throughout the south of India. I've covered a lot of distance, and if time were real here; I would have elapsed a lot.
I've changed my next destination almost daily.
I've had such an amazing quest since flying into the madness just after Christmas. To what felt at first like such a mistake, to what I feel now is one of the greatest decisions I've ever made.
I decided about a month in, that the south of India was like a country in itself, and so that became my goal for the remainder of the time here.
To discover and immerse myself in all the south has to offer.
From Goa, to Gokarna, Hampi, Bangalore, Pondicherry and Auroville, To the beautiful mountain towns of Kodaikkanal and Munnar, followed by Varkala, kochi and to finishing off where I started, Goa. (A 15hour bus ride to and from Mysore because Goa is just that bit too crazy).
So I thought, rather than keep telling you how amazing and wonderful and colorful India is (what you'll read on every blog and guidebook around) I'd tell you about some of the things that have left me gobsmacked since I begun this adventure over 3 months ago.
Or at least one of the many stupidly crazy days riding one Enfield (trust me, there were a lot of them!).
Kumily to Varkala
(the case of the missing chain)
Nice quick trip was planned for this day.
After too many 8 + hour days riding around on uneven, and at times super scary roads, I was happy when the GPS gave me 3 hours to do the trip. Perfect. I can stop for a chai somewhere and still be there to meet my friends for lunch in Varkala. The ride started well. Winding down the side of the mountain, passing through 5 shop towns. The whole time, the nice cool mountain air keeping me feeling like I wasn't in a sauna. Great success so far.
About 2.5 hours into the ride. Taking in all the amazing views and people, I totally forgot where I was supposed to be. Checking my gps and realizing I'd ridden 30km downhill past my turn off. Ahhhh shit. Ok, no big deal, time to get my bearings together. Have a quick stretch and head back uphill. At worst, this little detour had only added an extra 20-40minutes. Not too bad with all things considering in India.
Stretched out, a sneaky chai and back on the bike. Full throttle. As I tore up the hill, with a new lease of life, and some cool tunes in my ear, weaving in and out of traffic. Thinking to myself that at this pace; I can do the rest of the ride in an hour. No worries, right?
WRONG! I down geared going up hill, as to handle the sharp hairpin corners ahead.
Negotiating the corner successfully, I went to give it full power again to rocket up the remainder of the hill.
Clicked it into third.
Clicked it into third.
CLICKED IT INTO THIRD!!?
"What the fuck is your problem!? Why won't you go into THIRD!?"
Matter of fact, no gears seemed to be engaging.
Never have ridden a motorbike before, but coming from a family rich in motorbike and mechanical history, I knew the last thing I needed was a fried gearbox.
I pulled over, and in between rage and complete confusion, started to proceed to swear at (and inspect the bike) - the clutch looks ok I guess.…
Scratching my head, and considering my possibilities from here.
Do I ditch the bike and walk to where a bus will stop? Hitchhike into town and try to find a mechanic?
A tuk-tuk driver driving past noticed my anguish and honking his horn, started yelling at me. ("What now man?? No I don't want to get into your tuk tuk and be ripped off right now").
Only, he proceeded to yell at me, then began waving his finger at my bike; then waving his finger in the direction of down the hill; then pointing at my bike again. ( I literally have no idea what you want from me buddy!)
To my surprise, he gets out of his ride, and pulls what looks to be a massive oily chain from the floor of the tuk tuk. ( he rides around with a spare chain? That's pretty nuts, I wonder how many people need a new chain in India?… ohhhhh wait, that's the chain from my bike… no wonder it wasn't engaging into gear…)
The remainder of the afternoon was spent by me:
1) Pushing the bike 2 kilometers to the closest town to find a mechanic.
2) Discovering the first mechanic was closed and pushing the bike a further 500 meters.
3) Discovering the mechanic COULD fix the problem, but didn't have the correct part.
4) Riding into town on the back of the crazy mechanics scooter to find the part, only to realize every parts shop was closed for lunch.
5) Eating lunch and drinking whisky with the mechanic (while we waited of course).
6) Understanding less then 5% of what the mechanic was saying.
7) Finally attaining said part (link for an Enfield chain) and proceeded to let the drunk mechanic take me back to his workshop. Where I tried to help, he napped, and he had a 13 year old boy fix the chain.
8) Paid the mechanic for all the labour and parts (grand total : 100ruppess / $2AUD)
Just like that; my day turned from a cruisy 3-4 hour day, into another 12 hour day.
Exhausted, and dealing with a late afternoon hangover, I got as close as I could to Varkela and called it a day. Where I spent the following 10hours in a complete dive of a room/sauna box in Kollam. Where I swore as soon as the sun rose, I'd ride out of there quicker than anyone ever has…
All in all just another day on a motorcycle in India…
I just couldn't look past Hampi as my absolute favorite place I was lucky enough to visit.
The Kilometers of ruins and temples of royal families from centuries prior.
The golden-orange sunsets over the temples and the bazar on the other side of the river.
The lush green of the rice fields in amongst the red rocks that are never ending.
Hanuman temple a top all those stairs.
Or perhaps it was the countless days spent climbing and exploring (and starting motorbike clubs) with so many other like minded people.
Everything about the mystical place will warm your heart.
Sure. At times it didn't feel like real India, where the hecklers were few and far between, and the guy trying to clean your ears became a friend, rather than a daily annoyance.
Food wasn't the cheapest either (as far as India goes), but if climbing in a desert of the morning and evening, and headed to the lake or a temple through the day seems like as big as a deal to you as it does me, then this the place you've been meaning to visit.
2) Kodaikkanal (and the surrounding hill towns of Tamil)
Coming in at a verrrrry close second, has to be Kodaikkanal.
The crisp, cool night air is the first thing that hits you as you've wound up the side of the mountain for the previous hour and a half.
Escaping the heat of southern India; Kodaik has incredible views and a very different cultural mixture than any other place in the south.
(A lot of Tibetans made their way all the way down when they escaped from the Chinese takeover of Tibet just after WW2. Creating a vast mix of culture an cuisine).
The surrounding lakes and nature walks are nice but would be so much better with less plastic and rubbish floating down stream.
More than anything, was the quietness of Kodiakanal.
In most directions were treks to be done and your own piece of nature to lay back on and enjoy sunset.
Again, this choice was a very hard one.
This was actually a place many told me to avoid because "it's just another big polluted city".
To me, Mysore was such a cool experience to finish India on. It's a city, sure. But with no buildings more than two or three stories high, it had more of a town feel.
The colors, the chaos, the unlimited backstreets to get lost down. And the devine street food wherever you move your eyes.
Seeing the great divide between the rich and poor was evident no matter where I visited in India.
But, watching Mysore an outsiders perspective and eating with the locals, you get the feeling that no matter your social standing, religion or background, Mysore accepted everyone. And it worked so well because of this.
Really, there are so many other places I visited and would have them in the top 5.
AurroVille and Gokarna, had so much spirit and energy, that they are places you can find yourself for months.
On the contrary, Goa doesn't feel like India. But it does have an amazing vibe for aspiring musicians.
It hasn't been all fun and games here.
Unfortunately; India still has a dark side. Not as evil as western media portrays, but still alarming.
Since being in India, I've noticed some of the most horrific homelessness and poverty I had ever imagined. With a middle class of something like 90 million people; it makes you wonder where the rest of the population sits.
I've also noticed a great divide between the sexes.
Woman are treated in many places with little to no respect.
And as a part of marriage here, even ones who have an education end up as house wives.
Many of the very "lower class" of woman work in hard labor. And it's not uncommon to see them working 20x harder than their husbands and male counterparts.
And a great inequality between classes.
Those who say the cast system doesn't play a big factor any more are just blinded and naive.
Even traveling between cities and towns can prove extremely expensive and almost eliminate the concept for the "lower" class.
Eating a street meal in most small towns is around 50 rupees (a decent amount when your wages are extremely low).
The airport (Mumbai) although said to be one of the best airports in the world; is controlled by "big franchise" chains and can be upward of 500 rupees for a meal. (A very tasteless, unimaginative meal at that).
The longer I spent in the sub-continent, the more I wanted to see change and build ideas with locals of how change can be made.
India is changing, somewhat for the better, but extremely slowly. This is the second biggest population in the world. And with that, comes a "masala" (mixed spices) of different people from all walks of life. Religion and race.
Not scratching the surface deep enough, I don't know the inner workings as well as I think.
But to have Muslims, Hindi's, Christians, and many other cultures and beliefs living and interacting (mostly peacefully) within a close vicinity of one another is extremely positive, and many countries can stand back and take notes.
(Especially back home in Australia, where many migrate to escape war torn countries and end up trying to find and intergrate into a mainly Christian background).
We are all just people at the end of the day.
Pollution, over population, lack of drinkable water and massive amounts of corruption are also very present in many cities of India.
Some may ask why go? Why return? Why would you want to immerse yourself in a country that has so many negatives??
Because it's beautiful.
People are extremely friendly. Food is cooked with love and passion. People believe in and represent a more spiritual way of living. (There is an elephant for a god!!)
Not to mention, what family and friends mean to these people.
In a country that's so poor, families stick strong, and bring one another more happiness than money could ever buy.
They have festivals every other day. People dance in the streets. Know their neighbors and are more aware of themselves than any of their consumer driven western counterparts.
India has infused itself as part of my soul. It has changed the way I view the world and people.
And every part of me wants to run away and get lost there forever.
No matter where my journey takes me in the future, I'll return to India to first blind me of the western world and then recharge my batteries in a way no other place could.
I want to be part of the change there.
I should point out that I'm not wishing to bag those out who can't afford or are not in a position to make these changes; but more the system for allowing it to continue.
Many of those I speak about are in a position where things may never change during their time here (or even their children's generation). But I wish to see that change and be at least a small part of it.
I hope by me writing about my experiences, no matter how negative they may seem, that it flashes a spark in (if only one person) and begins a change that will see the sub-continent more equal for all parties who call it home. No matter their background, education level, sex or religion.
Stay tuned for more adventures!!