Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bad News First

We will not be leaving Delhi today. The truck bringing the bikes got delayed by floods, fire, locusts, an old friend coming in from out of town, traffic, landslides, or a flat tire. Whatever the case, they won't have time to give the bikes a once over until mid-afternoon. It doesn't make much sense to start packing bikes at three or four because the sun sets about seven and this isn't a place to ride in the dark if it can be avoided.

But the good news is that we will have an opportunity to take the bikes on a test ride today without loads. If something is amiss, Soni and his minions can fix it and they will meet us tomorrow morning right bright and early.

Speaking of bright and early, the city has quite the alarm clock with an automatic snooze feature built right in. The call for morning prayer goes off at five a.m. sharp. Roll over and slap the nightstand if you like. Twelve minutes later(a perfect length-it gives you enough time to get back to sleep and into the dream about the tuk tuk race) you'll hear bark-a-bark-a-roo. That's the dogs being driven quite mad by cows strolling up and down the streets. Not as pleasant as a rooster but very effective.

Yesterday morning was spent banking or walking from bank to bank and then giving up and using the cash machine rather then changing money because contrary to what the last bank said and the fact that there was a electronic currency exchange rate board on the wall, "I am sorry sir, but we do not change money here.

Phil arranged for five of the finest tuk tuk drivers in all of India(not just Delhi mind you, the patriarch of the group was quite clear) to meet us at 1300 hours outside our hotel. When the conversation began Phil tried to be vague about where we were staying but one of the drivers knew we were at the C Park Inn. I guess we don't blend in very well which really suprises me.
Our goal was Conault Place, a big open air market. Armed with head cams, video cams, and a mess of stickers we peeled out. My driver did a Bollywood Roll at the first stop and we jumped to an early lead. It didn't last long. Triple lane changes, no look turns, and wrong way on one ways were the name of the game.

The drivers really seemed to dig all of it. Not only did they put stickers on their rides, they stickered other vehicles while we were zipping past. They didn't take us to Conault Place however, insisting it was closed. Besides they knew a better place, best place, very fine goods.
Welcome to India and its kickback society. The market was upscale and packed with pressing salespeople. No definitely means, 'please show me three more of each color here.' We walked around looking, feeling, and pricing while being hounded. No matter the excuse you throw at them, they volley back a counter.

We escaped souvenir free and spilled onto the hot sidewalk. Our tuk tuk drivers were waiting. I asked one of them if he knew where to find a good map. He said he did and led me to a store three doors down. The map was a postcard. When I didn't want that one, I was offered a calendar. I was pretty happy when Mariska suggested that if they were going to take us to places just to get their kickback, then they should take us to a place that sells beer.

After a leisurely lunch, we asked them to return us to the hotel. They insisted on taking us to one more market. The patriarch leveled with us and we thought, 'why not, these guys will benefit, we have nothing better to do, and the place will have ac.'

I'm glad we let them cuz it was far and away the best of the emporiums we've visited. If we can't find what we are looking for on the trip, that's the store we will return to. Ideally, we buy our Kasmir in Kasmir from the villagers that made it so they get all the money and therefore the benefit but who knows.

Josh and I got shaves and haircuts with the locals a couple of blocks from the hotel. The shop had enough space for two chairs so they put in six. It was pretty funny to watch them push each other for position until I realized that doing that with scissors is dangerous. But if yer gonna let a man at yer neck with a straight razor you gotsta relax.

In the morning, Matt and I went to acquire a few more maps before the paperwork/test ride. Tuk tuks are pretty mellow.

The paperwork and payments took place over chai teas. The office fan blew things around the room and it was still too hot. We signed our lives away and walked to a nice quiet spot and the bikes.

Four mechanics worked furiously on the side of the road. The mechanics worked on clutch handles, bent pegs, blown exhaust pipes, and cracked tanks. We stood in the sun and sweated while they gave our bikes an Indian once over.

After about 45 minutes all the bikes were running somewhat smoothly. We went up and down a quiet alley once. Two of the bikes needed help but after fifteen minutes we were up and running.

We took a right and the madness began. Soni ripped away and it was all I could do to keep up. The bikes don't have mirrors. You wouldn't want them anyway. There's no reason to know what's right beside you and you don't have time to check.

We bobbed, weaved, and juked our way through the traffic. Soni blew red lights, did u-turns, and passed buses on the shoulder. He pulled over a couple of times and we were always with him. He'd smile, tear out, and step it up a notch.

Halfway through the check out ride Soni pulled over and took off his helmet. We stripped our jackets. Soni said it was time to talk about the bikes. He showed us how to start the bikes, work the lights, hit the kill switch, and lock the steering column. Seems to me it would be better to do that before we made an eight bike wedge to split tuk tuks.

Tomorrow we will get an early start to miss as much of that as possible.

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