Monday, October 6, 2008

Into the foothills

Chandigar to Shimla-elephants, vespas, monkeys and more. We got a leisurely start because we only had to go 150 km. Judging by the day before we thought it would take three hours max so we'd roll into town about 1600, get our bearings, acquire shelter, and find a great place for dinner.

Traffic refused to thin out even though we were driving away from the bigger cities. Roads narrowed to exacerbate the issue. We had a lot more pedestrians to deal with because we went from village to village.

I thought the smog would be better because we were leaving the city and gaining some elevation. The tuk tuks in Delhi run on natural gas, but that isn't the case outside the city. Every tuk tuk I saw needed a tune-up. I've been waking about 3 in night to have a ten minute sneezing fit/pollution cleanse and last evening was no different.

Whitey is becoming more and more rare. Our lot is obviously traveling together and heads turn, people wave with the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old, and practice their English as we ride by. Men come up to shake our hands when we pull over for breaks.

A man approached me at one such break(while we waited for Jason to film the elephants) and said, "These bikes are from Sunny Motors?" I nodded and took his outstretched hand. "I am Soni." Senior that is, he was returning from guiding the last trip of the season on the route we hope to complete.

He gave us some inside information on road conditions, accommodations, petrol and the like. Soni, sr. also told us to find his mechanic at the Radisson so he could give our bikes the once-over before we leave Shimla.

Josh and I were the first to reach Shimla and the rendevous point, Hotel Victory. I guarded the bikes (got hounded by salesmen trying to get us to stay at their hotels) while Josh checked out the rooms and prices.

When he returned I drove to check out another place. Apparently I took a wrong turn because a few guys chased me at a corner. I ignored them, assuming they wanted to sell me something. The road climbed and when I rounded the bend a group of five men ran at me waving their arms. The ones behind caught up and I was surrounded.

They told me I needed a permit to be driving that road. I have no idea if it's a park, religious/holy site, or a gated community. I just apologized and turned around. Then they chased me all the way down the hill offering hotels.

I flipped on my headlights. Maybe I should explain; in the states headlights on bikes can not be turned off for safety reasons. In India people yell or flash lights to let you know that your lights are on. Pedestrians stop and flip your lights off for you as if you'd be driving a motorcycle in Delhi if you didn't know where the light switch was.

I turned on my lights because it was dark, the road was potholed, pedestrians were everywhere, and earlier in the day I thought I was gonna smear bacon all over the highway when a black hog made a poor decision(perhaps he thought he was a cow). But people flashed me all the way back to Hotel Victory. Maybe Shiva lights their path, who knows, but I need lights at night, call me crazy.

The gang was all at Victory when I arrived and taking turns driving bikes up a steep, narrow sidewalk with a hairpin in the middle to park on the patio. Jason explained why he, Anthony, and Mariska were so far behind.

He couldn't get his bike to start after the elephant stop, it turned over but wouldn't catch. He assumed it was the spark plug. Jason rolled the bike down the hill until he found a mechanic only three storefronts down. The man looked up from the headlight he was wiring and Jason pointed to the plug.

The mechanic put down the light and went to work on Jason's bike. He gapped the plug, checked that it was firing, and since it wasn't, replaced it. No go. So he took apart, basically peeled back the wire casing and found a break at the point where the wire attaches to the plug. He didn't have a new wire to sell Jason so he rewired that one by taking a little slack out of the line.
The mechanic mimed that Jason should take it for a test drive. It worked just fine so Jason asked how much he owed. The whole thing took about half an hour and the guy wouldn't put the old spark plug back in. He asked for 70 rupees, about a buck seventy. It would've been a hundred bones and two days in the States, easy.

While we watched the helmet cam footage of a Vespa driver falling into Phil(don't worry Phil's fender cushioned the blow) we heard an Enfield. They are as distintive sounding here as a Harley other places. Carl looked out the window and saw Bill and Kagen. We were ten again.

Their side adventure involved dinner at a religious festival, riding three-up on an Enfield, loading a motorcycle into a tuk tuk, a tuk tuk tow truck pulling the bike which was being piloted by an Indian in flip flops, and a professor that was so excited to meet foreigners that they had to lose him in traffic to be rid of him.

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