The Goa Trail Diaries
or Lost (Riders) In India
by Jayne Bell (part2)
Tuesday 9th November
From Hampi through Chikmagalur to Belur. Hit the road 6.30 am. Heading south on the open road at a fast pace. Through shanty towns with the morning smells of woodsmoke, cowpat and diesel. We ride down tree-lined roads in our shirt sleeves and its just like an English summer's day. Another hazard we hadn't encountered up to now is the bizarre method of thrashing the millet. It is spread across the road for the lorries and other vehicles to run over. We are frowned upon as we try to ride around it.
Following the previous nights masseur experiences Scooter is doing some exercises for shoulder pain whilst he is riding along. Several of us join in doing synchronised half-Scooters (that's one side at a time, its not recommended to take both hands off the handlebars together). We try and plan to do this as we pass through villages just to confound the natives!
We pass a Huge, HUGE pile of hay at the side of the road which on closer scrutinization has a cart and tractor underneath it which has collapsed, presumably under the weight.
Today we have lots of nice riding - but with the usual hazards of buses, pigs, cows, cowshit. We see lots of poverty, farm workers living in palm-leaf shacks. But wherever we go and no matter what the conditions the people especially the children are always well turned out and smiling.
Children run out to the roadside to wave as they hear us coming. I apparently attract a lot of interest being a lady rider as the only women on bikes are on the back riding side-saddle.
We stop near a coffee plantation. I go over and inspect the undergrowth (as you do) and discover a plant that looks like deadly nightshade. I enquire about this and I am told that it is the Indian version and is used as a date-rape drug and induces hallucinations that you don't come out of.
We arrive late afternoon in Belur at the Mayura Hotel 'Complex'. This name seems somewhat ironic (wasn't that a historical Greek period?) as the facilities are anything BUT Complex. In fact the mat as you LEAVE the 'bathroom' says WELCOME! Things are pretty basic and we are told that tomorrow we head AWAY from civilisation!
We are informed that the Hoysala Temple which is 1000 years old is worth a visit to watch the Pooja ceremony, so off we go. The temple inside appears to be a sort of black stone and is 'delicately' lit with strip lights (hence no decent pictures of this). The ceremony itself is a sort of blessing with fire and water and takes place to the music of a saxophonist and drummer! Bizarre ain't the word for it.
Back at the Hotel it seems to be egg and chips all round for dinner and we watch the flying foxes take-off from the nearby trees and fly overhead. We discuss the days riding and agree how pleased we were with it having had a grin from ear to ear all day. I read from the photocopied Blazing Trails brochure that I have with me describing tomorrows run
"with a stroke of the choke we wake our beasts
... etc". We all laugh hysterically as Nick tries to play this down and tells us how he made them take out all the smutty references. Evidently he failed !!
We wake to discover that what facilities we had are now minus water. Breakfast is 7.30 for 8.30 start, so at 8.25 we 'stroke our chokes and wake our beasts' and hit the road again.
Today we head south again for Mysore (or 'My-sore bum' after yesterdays long ride). The roads are good (in places) and Richard is able to take a video while riding. We stop for coffee, lunch etc. along the way and arrive in Mysore at 1.45pm. No sooner have we parked up than both wheels are off my bike for straightening. I am assured that its not of my causation, the bikes take a lot of punishment on these roads.
Our room is very nice, it has a warm shower, European type toilet, TV and sofa and is quite spacious, but still the odd item of wildlife!>
We are shown the Bazaar and Market which is bustling and colourful and many smells of spices and fruits tingle our noses. We are taken to a Silk and Sari shop to buy gifts. (Mysore is apparently the 'silk capital' of India).
159km travelled today.
We breakfast at the Ritz and on my return I find that I now have wheels, so off I go to get petrol.
We set off 9.30 for Masinagudi, leaving the hustle and bustle of Mysore behind. We ride south to and through the national parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries of Bandipur and Mudumalai. Through forests where wild animals be - like tigers, elephants and wild boar. We now enter our third Indian state Tamil Nadu (that accounts for the tigers no doubt). We are told not to stop, and for the last hour and in the wild-life park we are allowed to ride without our helmets.
We arrive at the Jungle Retreat, a most excellent place, fairly remote up a hillside. Our chalet is very nice in colonial style with all necessary facilities and a veranda with chairs and table where you can sit, watch and listen to the sounds of the jungle.
The main bar and dining area is very comfortable with bamboo roof and furnishings, and as we sit and have a beer with the jungle as a backdrop, we listen to the radio which is tuned to a satellite station called Orbit Rock and which is playing such classics as Pink Floyd, Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, Ziggy Stardust, Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springstein, Bob Dylan, T-Rex, etc etc etc. I think I've died and gone to heaven!
Back at the chalet John and I sit on the veranda drinking John Powers Whisky while the dusk settles and the volume of the jungle increases - imagining the days of the Raj and how wonderful it must have been. Not too far away and getting far too close are what sounds like gun shots, - we are debating whether to sing 'Land of Hope and Glory' or wave a white flag when one of the staff happens by and tells us it is the Festival of Light and people are setting off bangers.
Back along the now lit trail to the clubhouse for dinner, more beer, more Orbit Rock and great company - perfection doesn't get any better!
5.15 call for 5.45 start for safari into the jungle to see some wildlife. We're getting used to these early starts by now. Sleep, who needs it? - we're running on pure adrenalin.
Our jungle guide takes us by jeep deep into the jungle to see what we can see. In reality we don't see very much for all our silence and tip-toeing, in fact we have seen more wildlife in some of the bedrooms we have stayed in, but we did see a tigers footprint, some antelope and a monkey about a mile away. We kept looking hopefully at the muddy pools imagining that a hippo might surface - but none did.
Back at the Jungle Retreat we have breakfast and discover that others were luckier on their jungle treks, seeing elephants and bison.
For those that wished, a ride would leave later in the morning for Ooti. We weren't actually going to Ooti itself which is set amidst tea plantations, just along the road to Ooti which is up the mountain and passes through 36 hairpin bends rising 1500m in 11km. John and I decide to go.
We pass through the cloud level and stop for a rest at a café at the top where a sign warns of the 'very dangerous ghat' that we have just ridden up. Then its back down - back through the 36 hairpin bends again, avoiding the usual hazards - coaches, cows and cowshit on the bends, and one I haven't come across before - 5 men doing press-ups across the middle of the road. I hoot at them and they get up and bow me through - I wave back. Nearing the bottom the rain starts and we arrive back a bit soggy.
We swap stories over lunch then have the rest of the afternoon to chill out before dinner. The rain is setting in and John and I again sit on the veranda, this time listening to the rain as dusk falls and watching the lights dip and fade.
At least we are given a lamp, candles and matches in case it goes out completely - which happens quite a lot.
Today's events include:
The facilities: well we have 2 European style toilets - albeit one of which is infested with slugs. The hot water is accessed by dipping a jug into a cauldron and as usual mixing it with cold in a bucket to get the right temperature. There is no electric light in either the annex room or one of the bathrooms, only candle-light (hence the slugs) - I keep an eye on them while getting a wash in case they creep up on me. We sit on the veranda drinking beer and swatting the mosquitoes. Most go for a meal in the main part of village complex, but I am too tired and opt to go to bed.
We're up at 6 and scurrying around by torch light to get a wash etc. I now discover that besides the slugs there is also a frog in the bathroom, a large spider in our room (we try not to startle it in case it runs) and a huge caterpillar lapping the bedroom floor. Good job I hadn't known about these before or there was no way I'd have slept in there!
We have a good breakfast of omelettes and toast and set off about 7am bound for Turtle Bay which is North-West.
We cross many bridges spanning wide emerald rivers lined with palm trees. The biggest hazard seems to be coaches and one runs me off the road as it overtakes a lorry coming head-on towards me. I have no road available to stay on and these coaches don't give way - so its off-road I go at 80km/hr and continue for a while until I can see an opportunity to re-join, 'bastard!' but yet again I live to tell the tale. Just another near-death experience and every-day occurrence in India.
We arrive at Turtle Bay in about 100°F and as soon as we are checked in, head straight into the sea which is about 50 yards away, as the cabana is virtually on the beach. The sea is like a warm bath, and while we all wash away the dust of the journey Alan treads on a sting-ray and cuts his foot, requiring medical attention. Our room is the top of a two-storey tower. The apartment itself is round with the bathroom area cutting a semicircle into it. It is comfortable and clean and we have our own veranda with arched terracotta niches cut into the walls.
While we are sitting having a beer after our swim Darren appears with a surf-board under his arm. I sing the tune to Hawaii 5-0 and everyone laughs and muses at why he thought to bring a surf-board on a motorcycle trip and where's he been keeping it?
This is the first place we have experienced flies and there are lots. >
We sit around the beach bar or swing in hammocks (John falls out of one while reaching for his beer), and as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean we're again listening to Orbit Rock. This time they are playing Hotel California, Talking Heads, Bob Seger's 'Main Street' and Santana - I'm sure this station knows where we are and is playing records especially for us!
We eat fresh mackerel caught from the sea for dinner and again sit and drink beer until late.
It's a late start today and after breakfast we have time for another swim and a walk along the beach past fishermen mending their nets and talk to a few locals. Apparently Turtle Bay is so named because of the Olive Ridley Turtles that come here in their thousands to lay their eggs each year.
We set off in the heat of the day at 11am heading for Gokarna. Richard decides to ride without his shirt and I for the first time decide to leave my scarf off as there's not so much dust now. We ride north along the coastal highway stopping for lunch at Murudeshwar where there is a large 'Shiva' statue on the hill and a temple under construction nearby.
Its very hot and sunny and by the time we park up in Bellakan I'm beginning to feel the effects of the sun, but there's still a boat ride round to the beach where we are spending the night. We leave all unnecessary items with the minibus and hop on board the boat. As we round the headland we pass jumping dolphins - I'm told they will swim with you if you go far enough out.
The cove we arrive in is called Om-Shanti by the hippies who live there. One of them (a German) has been on the beach for 4 years and he looks like the hermit in 'The Life of Brian'. He's only 46 years old but he looks 66, must be a hard life being a Hippie. Tonight we sleep on the beach. The only concession to facilities is a hole-in-the-ground toilet and nothing else. There is however beer and dinner organised. Some people go for a swim and others just chill out, but for me the sun has taken its toll and I'm really not well. Suffice to say that I spent a very long night on the beach becoming well acquainted with the rocks and waves, and boy are there thousands of stars to count.
A bonfire was lit and fireworks set off but I wasn't in any condition to enjoy it. Richard was pretty similar. I really didn't think I would be in any condition to ride next day.
By 8am I'm starting to think about trying a cup of coffee. I ask Gareth if he has anything for an upset stomach and he gives me some natural bran mixture to drink which is rather like wallpaper paste - I'd hoped for some chemicals. Either it or the coffee brought me round and after the boat ride back to the bikes we hit the road at about 11am.
Mercifully the roads are more tree-lined so we manage to get a little shade along the route. There are periods when I haven't seen a group member either behind or in front of me for miles as we get quite strung out. The road becomes much busier as we ride towards Goa and we arrive about 4.30 back at the Big House where we had set off from 11 days earlier. We park the bikes up and say our farewells to them.
We are taken in Thunderbird 2 to our respective hotels. Richard, Harry, John and I are billeted at the Roma which is OK but has no pool. A farewell meal has been organised for that evening at 'A Riverie' restaurant which is excellent. Suzie comments on how much cleaner I look than earlier on - yes I seem to always have collected the dust and dirt more than anyone else!
We celebrate a 'No-Drop' tour which apparently is unusual for a large group like ours, and a few secrets slip out - like the attempted mutiny on one trip!
We spend the next three days around Goa feeling lost without our bikes and watching longingly each time an Enfield passes by. We meet up with the rest of the gang at various intervals and for dinner. We visit Anjuna market which is 'hassle-ville' but there are many bargains to be had.
Thursday - Some of the gang meet up for go-karting but John and I decide to go for a pizza and a night walk along the shore. We watch the breaking waves catch the moonlight and appear like a cold fire shooting along the wave's edge. We go back to the hotel and sit on the veranda in the dark heat listening to the Indian music drifting across the palms.
Friday - We have breakfast at the hotel and are joined by Richard and Harry who has just been disappointed by his silk shirt order.
We go round to the pool at a local hotel where some of the gang have been staying. The constant Saturday Night Fever sound-track that is playing confirms my feelings about Goa and yes the Hippies were right - it is ruined - you wouldn't know you were in India sitting here, you could be anywhere. Well at least we've seen the REAL India and probably more of it than most Indians ever do. And one thing is certain, I've never felt more alive than while on this tour and John and I will definitely be back!
Welcome back to Britain!