The Goa Trail Diaries
or Lost (Riders) In India
by Jayne Bell (part 1)
John and I had decided about 3 years ago to do this tour when circumstances allowed, so when we heard that Harry and Richard were going and that there were 2 spare places, we jumped at the chance. And so it was that on Thursday 4th November, four Lost Riders left Manchester (on two separate flights), bound for Goa.
Now a few rules you learn about riding an Enfield in India are:-
And a general observation:
Friday 5th November
Arrive 5.15 pm India time (5½ hours ahead)
Watch Harry and Richard's plane land as we walk across the runway. Our plane overtook theirs in Bahrain.
Now dark, we are gathered up and taken to 'the big house' which is the Blazing Trails HQ. A large colonial house very much in need of repair. It is home to 7 dogs lots of people and cats - and - Enfields which are in the lounge. We meet the rest of our party. The others are: 7 guys from Burnley who are all members of the British Biker's Club; Brian, John, Dave, Scooter, 'Dangerous' Dave, Darren and Neil; Alan (a Scotts/Canadian) and Mike (his brother-in-law from Essex); Dan and Paul from 'daarn sarf'; Mark(aka 'Rotherham') and us four Lost Riders; Richard, Harry, John and myself - and yes, that makes me the only woman on the tour and there are no pillion riders so we are all equals.
We are given a drink and Nick our tour leader gives us a brief on what is in store, like "this is not a holiday, this is an adventure", plus some rather more scary advice for on the road!
We also meet Suzie (Nicks sister and believed to be creator of Blazing Trails), Gareth (who is to be our Medic, Marshall and as it turns out Mystic on tour), and Jumal our travelling mechanic who will be the last bike at all times. We will be followed by the minibus (Thunderbird 2) with our luggage driven by Ali and his mate).
We are then taken back to our hotel. It will be an early start in the morning, up at 5.15 to be collected at 5.45. It is now about 9 pm. We very quickly change our clothes, and I discover that my sun tan oil has emptied itself over some of my clothes, and given that I don't have many anyway, this is disastrous. I do a very quick damage limitation exercise and head out of the hotel to get some Rupees (it is about 25C ). We eventually obtain the Rupees but not one of us has remembered the name of the hotel and we spend about half an hour looking before we find it again. A large group of us at this point decide to have the recommended meal at the nearby fish restaurant. By the time we have finished it is about 12 ish and John and myself go off to bed. We haven't had much/any sleep since Wednesday night and it is now nearly Saturday morning and we have to make that early start in about 5 hours.
We are collected 5.45 sharp (apart from those that cannot be woken), and are taken back to 'the big house' where we are given an eggs and toast breakfast and watch the bats flying in and out through the holes in the roof while we are eating.
We are introduced to our allocated bikes as they are brought out. They are known by their keyring which have various little plastic animals on them. Mine is 'the fly', it is a cut down version especially for the smaller person. It has smaller wheels, shortened forks, lower handle-bars and a single (very comfortable as it turns out) seat. For its lighter weight it is also quicker off the mark and does an estimated 100 mpg overall (as we later discover).
We set off into the hills about 7.15 ish heading eastward and 'get to know our bikes!' - like where the hell's the brake! (The gears are 1 up and 3 down on the right, and the brake's on the left, and it takes some getting used to braking with the left foot). The pace is QUICK and there are road works, lots of lorries, and dust (sticking to me in particular), as we travel along snaking roads through the hills.
The scenery and sights of Indian rural life are quite a culture-shock, and the hazards (mentioned earlier) are making themselves known to us at every twist, turn and inappropriate moment. These near-death experiences can total dozens in a day.
A recognition of any sort of highway code seems to be non-existent - overtaking on the inside, outside, underside, inside of ONCOMING traffic (usually off-road), cutting in (you should be expecting the unexpected anyway!) and basically any manoeuvre that doesn't get anyone killed is acceptable.
A bizarre custom for broken down vehicles instead of a red warning triangle is stones, vegetables, or anything set around them, and quite often the driver is taking a nap underneath.
We stop and watch a road-mending gang with a Road Roller which has a stone on a string for a handbrake. I am mostly at the back still trying to remember where the f*** the brake is - and the gears, but always arrive only a couple of minutes behind the others when we stop for breaks, which are many.
During this first days ride we all realise that this is not for the faint-hearted, in fact this 'adventure' is going to require BALLS! Luckily I had borrowed a pair for the occasion and BOY DID I NEED THEM!
The evening meal is cooked on a fire in a hole in the ground while we all sit around it drinking and becoming acquainted.
Off back to the hut to bed. Luckily there is a large mosquito net that amply covers the bed. A good job! as anything could crawl in through the trellis windows and drop straight onto my head in the night.
140km travelled today.
Up at 5.30, breakfast at 6 on the roof terrace, but first I have to negotiate the large black spider that is walking round the floor. I decide to get back into bed and put my boots on before braving the outer reaches of the hut!
We ride off through the woods - avoiding the pot-holes and the occasional kamikaze cow, and see 2 lorries with their cabs smashed together, but otherwise a pleasant ride.
We pass through market towns like Hubl where we stop for lunch. This was the first large town we had been through and was completely manic. We are stopped and briefed before we enter - told 'keep together, make lots of noise'.
We stop later for petrol and are quickly surrounded by onlookers and lots of children who always come up and ask "Where you from?", "What's your name?" They also ask for pens which we learn that they can't afford to buy. Later some of the group buy pens and pencils at the local shop and hand them out - and are mobbed! At one point Richard decides to take a leak behind a lorry (out of my sight), only to discover on his return that the lorry is full of women, who are all now smiling widely.
The landscape changes as we reach the plains in the afternoon, and while we are trying to pass a bullock cart on a narrow bridge we are passed by 2 men and 2 goats on a small motorbike, twice, just to make sure of what we saw the first time. We were astonished, but the expression on the goats' faces told us that this was a common occurrence for them.
Nearing Hampi we have a very hairy ride through Hospet town centre - there are bikes, cars, trucks, bullock carts, tuk-tuks, cows, pigs, dogs, people everywhere - and, two women sweeping up in the middle - what's the point?
Gareth recommends we go for an evening 'meal' at a local cafe, which we do. He also recommends either the spicy chicken/mutton or very spicy chicken/mutton. (Mental note: don't trust Gareth's advice in future!)
After breakfast, set off in the minibus for the Hampi ruins. We visit temples and baths - only excavated in 1986 - of kings, queens and elephants, and secret underground tunnels. There is a huge bazaar area where gold and silver were traded. A musical temple with columns carved from one piece of stone and could play tunes on them. Hampi is a well kept secret of Indian history, its ruins cover 4 sq. kms but due to its remoteness attracts few visitors.
A Monkey Boy (that's a boy dressed as a monkey) posed and danced for us for 10 rupees. The main attraction is the two huge white temples, but set in front of one of these at the side of the main street is a monkey temple made completely of corrugated metal, which is home to hundreds of monkeys and is a complete contrast to the perfection of the temples. There's poverty everywhere, cows are eating rubbish - people trade, live, sleep by the roadside and an open sewer. Yet amongst all this there are plenty of Internet Cafes.
Over the river we are picked up in 2 jeeps which are about the size of a Suzuki Jeep. Ours had 12 of us in it plus the driver (who appeared to be only about 10) and some hanging on the outside. What tread there had been on the tyres was peeling off and our tour guide for the day didn't like us photographing this.
We bounce along listening to loud bhangra music, towards the large rock that we are to climb and watch the sunset from the top.
Having climbed to the top and fought off the thieving monkeys that live there we watch the sun setting and take pictures of the beautiful and panoramic views of the valleys. Another benefit of being on top of a mountain is that many of us finally get a mobile reception that we hadn't had since arriving in Goa. Consequently many phone calls are made before we climb back down to the awaiting jeeps for our journey back to the river crossing - again listening to bhangra music all the way. Needless to say, being so close to each other, we are well acquainted by the end. Mark comments that this would be a good time to play Bohemian Rhapsody so that we could head-bang together to it! I had to agree.
After the meal we ride back to the hotel in 6 tuk-tuks and are told to bribe the drivers to race. We were doing various side-car manoeuvres around corners with legs and heads sticking out of the sides but we still arrived last.