The long road to Hampi: Part 1

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Monday, April 24, 2006

I think I have mentioned this before somewhere: Indian "highways" are just plain and simply insane. A feast for the senses, India is, and this is true even when driving. There is no way better than on a royal enfield to smell, hear, see everything. To feel as well, yes, feel the sandblasting off of your skin, feel the heat of 'surya' above and rocinante below, feel the wind at 110 kph, and the occasional rock or bug pelting you in the shin.
Another thing you may feel is tired. Really tired. I've taken to calling the Royal enfield the "ayurvedic massage bike" as it's vibration takes a lot out of you after 6 or 8 hours. I'm more used to it now, a week later and holed up in Mysore, but I was a little less used to it then. .
About halfway to Hampi, Rocinante suddenly lost power and stopped running. Of course, switching to the reserve tank on the fly is old hat, so there it went. Usually one might have a liter or so in the reserve tank, so perhaps about 35-50 km left. As I got up around 40 km with still no petrol in sight, I started to wonder just how long a western man with one liter of water could last in the high red desert of Karnataka while pushing a 500 lb motorcycle in temperatures of 40 degrees celsius. . (that's about 105 for you american kids who were sick the day they went over metrics in school. . .).
So here she comes, just over the next rise, like a lighthouse on a foggy night--Petrol station. Brand new and shining bright orange it was, and pulling into the (always) unpaved lot I looked at the pumps, all diesel. The man said, No Petrol as if it was normal for a place that had "petrol" (that's gas for americans) on the sign in big block letters, even listed above diesel. So I mime "low on gas," and say, "where petrol?"
He points in an indeterminate direction across the road, and tells me simply,"dhaba."

Not knowing much hindi and even less Karnatakan, I at least did know Dhaba, this means restaurant. I also order water in these three languages as well: Pani, water, neero, so this is the routine I gave them at the dhaba, and they brought out a 2lt bottle of water.
The man was cooking something that smelled delicious, so I asked for some. Fried rice with some sort of nuts, lightly spiced with bits of indeterminate veg in there came over the counter. He actually had the foresight to give me a spoon as well with the plate, knowing more about westerners than dhaba keepers seem to here in the bustling metropolis of Mysore, who give you no utensils, and so you eat with right hand, like everyone else. . (not that I mind this at all, I will do a "going native Pt. 2 about some of that.. )
So with lunch served, and a dozen hangers-on I was well sorted. The fuel came over from across the street after a shout from the cook in the dhaba, one oil bottle and one pani/water/neero bottle, and went into the tank just before my lunch was served.
As usual there was the town (in this case nothing more than 20 shacks and a petrol, or should I say DieselOnly station), and the town linguist, who is the one who knows more english than the rest. The "linguist" is the one who was NOT sick the day they taught English here, probably the very same day they taught metric system in America. .
So the linguist ran through the usual questions, and I answered the best I could, using my usual jokes. An older man came over as I was eating, and made a show of wrapping his head in a large orange turban, then sat down across from me at the little table. ."This is Chairman," linguist informed me. Chaiman looked across at me, and we shook hands, him smiling with the telltale orange color of a lifetime ghutka addict on his stubby teeth (or lack thereof)>
I made a big show of taking out my red bandanna and tying it around my head easy-rider style. I pointed to it, then to Chairman's turban, and then untied it, making a motion that it was too short, needed to be longer to make a turban. Chairman guffawed, and the rest of the courtesans joined. Indians do like a good joke. Come to think of it, they like bad jokes too. They certainly seem to like to laugh and smile. They're probably just laughing at me, but does that really make a difference? They certainly do not mean anything personal by staring or laughing, in fact it is the furthest thing from. .
I know I'm getting sidetracked a bit here. .
So filled up with water and food, and Rocinante good for another 70 km or so, I went and made my prayers to the motorcycle gods before starting her up, and went off, the dhaba by this time filled with the whole village, at least the men anyway, waving and smiling, and doing the head-nod thing as I took off. I always do the "prayer" before starting--sort of lift my hands up to the sky like the Buddha asking for a gift, drop them down onto the petrol(gas) tank, then cross both fingers. When Rocinante starts on the first of second try, I thank the sky for it. Before starting the "prayer" I look over at the inevitable crowd, and say "Enfield," and they all get a good laugh when I do the blessing and she starts.
Rocinante's and her ilk are good fodder for sign jokes as well, such as the old favorite pantomime of driving, something goes boom, pulling over, fixing, and restarting. When combined as such, the "prayer" even elicits more laughter, though whether they are just indulging me in something that I think is funny and they have no idea of, I just can't be sure. But then again, what is the difference, really? Jokes are good.

Perhaps 10 km away from the village there was a petrol station, this time with petrol. I filled her up. 800 rupees. Youch. But worth every bit. There is no other way to travel.
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