Another day, another breakdown...

Trip Start May 23, 2008
Trip End Jun 22, 2008

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Friday, June 6, 2008

We set off from Maihar fairly early, keen to make some progress after losing some driving time yesterday. There has been plenty roadkill so far, but today we saw a really big snake - somewhat grateful not to see it alive...

We also passed a goat in a rickshaw, and a young boy riding a bicyle that was clearly too big for him, so pedalling through the frame, which was really cute!

I have just realised that I forgot to mention a 'minor' incident the other day, shortly after leaving our Nepal stopover. There was a huge traffic jam, with countless lorries and motorbikes blocking the road, which turned out to be a queue for petrol. We decided to try to skip it by going across the verge and round it all. I jumped out to direct Sharon and she followed my signals, into a gap between a signpost and a lorry which was slightly narrower than the rickshaw. And promptly got stuck there. Whoops! Needless to say, I have not being doing much directing traffic since then.

We found another truck stop for breakfast. It is always quite amusing watching people's reactions as we pull up in Dolly (our rickshaw!), usually parking right next to some of these huge Tata trucks. We were ushered in with 'welcome madam' - always a good sign! Have really been getting into the chai - a very sweet, mildly spiced milky tea, and we manage to fit in several chai stops each day - it's a welcome break from driving.

Every day we have been on the road, we have passed SO many mangled trucks. It is a very sobering sight - they are huge, and obviously very sturdy when compared to our little rickshaw. And some of the overtaking moves I have seen have been utterly outrageous. The lorry drivers are actually fairly sane when compared to the bus drivers who force their buses into spaces that do not even exist. And overtaking on uphill bends seems to be a favoured spot. I am genuinely amazed I have not witnessed an accident. But, as long as you are beeping your horn, and flashing your headlights to indicate "I am coming through", other vehicles seem to accept that. Even if it does mean driving onto the verge to avoid a collision. But it's not just been us that has done that, I have seen tractors and jeeps do it too to avoid getting hit. Thankfully there are these run off spots on the road!

Shortly after Sharon took over driving for the day, the exhaust, which had been getting louder and louder, became so noisy that we couldn't even hear each other when we were shouting, so at the next small village, we pulled over. Someone came over to us, and all he said was 'silencer?'. We nodded enthusiastically, and he pointed us in the direction of a mechanic. Soon the exhaust had been taken off and we were sitting on plastic garden chairs (I never knew they were so comfortable!) drinking chai. Everyone was very friendly, asking for us to take their photos.

Soon we were back on hte road after a repair which cost us 90 roupees. But that wasnt the end of our troubles for the day. Dolly really was rather poorly. She just conked out while driving, four time in all, though each time, after we waited about 10 minutes, she would start up again, without problem. And each of the times we stopped, we would invariably attract attention, and someone would come over and take a look (literally) at hte engine, before driving off!

However, the fifth time she stopped, there was no restarting her, which was a bit of a worry, as we were on a road about 10km out of town, and it was about 4.30. However, someone from the building across the road came over. He spoke pretty good english, introduced himself as Vishal, and said he had a hotel, which we could stay at, he would call out a mechanic and he would feed up and let us 'refresh, relax', all for no cost.

Sounded too good to be true....

What's that rule about is something sounds too good to be true, it usually is? Well, I think this story is proof of that. He helped us wheel the ailing Dolly over to his restaurant. He pulled out some plastic chairs and we sat down. There was an older man there; Vishal just pointed to him and said he was 'mentally disturbed'. The older man didnt like that description and protested, but Vishal waved him away saying he was 'brainwashed and mad', and we never saw the older guy again!

We took the bags out of Dolly while Vishal called a mechanic and I was shown the hotel room. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, and I did overhear one of the young boys say 'store room', so I declined to dump my bag and instead suggested Sharon took a look herself. Basically, it was a kitchen storeroom come kitchen come bedroom, complete with someone sleeping on a matress on the floor...

We both decided it wasn't really ideal and told Vishal that we had promised our 'husbands' that we would only sleep in hotels in city centres and that we would always be settled in by nightfall. He agreed that he would take us into the nearby town. The mechanic meanwhile informed us that the piston had seized, which would take about 10-12 hours to repair. I told him this was not possible, as we had to leave early the next morning, so he agreed  to do the work at his workshop that evening. Meanwhile, Vishal was asking us about our husbands and our 'family planning'. He then informed us that he and his wife had an understanding whereby she was allowed to go with other men - "just like our culture"... It was difficult to get the point across that western culture is not necessarily like in the Hollywood movies, as he kept telling us he was different to Indian men, and more like our husbands....

So, finally, Vishal agreed to take us to a hotel. Sharon and I made a great double act - I was getting terribly 'distressed' at the thought of breaking a promise to my husband about our accommodation, while Sharon was urging Vishal to take us to the hotel because her 'friend was getting upset'. We were in stitches. But, bless him, he did indeed take us to a pretty decent hotel, where we tried explaining to the manager about the rickshaw. The manager showed us to our room and took great delight in turning off the light - to reveal glow in the dark stars on the ceiling!!!
A short time later, the manager came to the room and enquire about the rickshaw. I gave him Vishal's number (I hadn't thought to get the mechanic's number): clearly the manager called Vishal, then the mechanic, because he returned to tell us the rickshaw would be brought to the hotel around 11pm.

And sure enough, about 11.30, there was a knock on the door, and it was the mechanic, with Dolly's keys. He showed me the old piston - I decided against keeping it as a souvenir - and gave us a few rules for driving: for the first 100km, no faster than 40kpm, mix 50ml of oil (compared to our usual 30ml) to each litre of petrol, regular rest breaks... Oh, then he told us that she would actually need more work, so in the morning we were to call Ashok Auto to get the repairs completed...

By that point, I was too tired to care!!
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