Mad Cows, Goan Raves and one Royal Enfield Bullet
Trip Start Nov 28, 2004
12Trip End Nov 23, 2005
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India. It's overloaded with, well, Indians. India's population is bulging at the seems with well over 1 billion people, and you realise it the minute you step out of the airport. Everywhere there are Indians, and I mean everywhere. From the odd Indian who pops his head out of a roadside bush and stares at you with a red toothless grin and enough enthusiasm to make you shit your pants, to a colourful Saddhu looking for enlightenment (and perhaps a handout), sitting on some huge desert rock in the amber light of the setting sun, you're bound to meet them all. This country IS the melting pot of the world, a vibrant mix of races, religions, smells and the always obligatory cow. A sensual overload. And when you least expect it, someone or something will want to sit next to you and ask you a million questions, from where you're from to what type of brill cream you use. Nothing in this country is ever predictable, and the only thing to expect is the unexpected, in any shape or form.
So, I've been on Palolem beach, in the lush tropical state of Goa now for the past month. The hills around here are covered in masses of eucalyptus gum trees mixed with pines and the usual cocunut palms. Some hilly areas only have the gums for as far as you can see, and some of these areas I swear feels like riding through the Royal National Park in Sydney's south. I'm staying at a place called The Found Thing's. Living in a small simple coconut hut on stilts just off the beach for 150 rupees a night ($4US). Every hut has a basic bed, with a less than luxurious mattress stuffed with coconut husk, soft enough to satisfy a Buddhist monk but too hard to satisfy a spoilt house dog (I think I'm somewhere in between). The electricity works when it wants to, and I've now been caught out a few times stumbling blind along the beach at 3am from a bar trying to find my hut, kicking the occasional sleeping beach dog along the way. Palolem's beach is covered with the same small huts, with each set of huts fronted by a makeshift restaurant/bar and half a dozen skanky beach dogs in charge. Come April/May, all the huts and restaurants are removed and the monsoon once again owns the south coast. Old dug out fishing boats line one end of the bay, and every evening the fisherman make their way out into the bay to catch what they can. In that magic hour of the day, travellers are drawn to the huge sunsets over the Indian Ocean like months to the light, in various twisted meditative positions they have picked up along the quest through India for enlightenment. Some look like they know what they're doing, others don't have a bloody clue and roll around in the sand trying to recompose themselves before the sun disappears, dressed in hemp and tattered travellers rags. It's a very amusing sight over a beer. None of the pasty two week package tourists that flood the north of Goa are here. Palolem really is one of the last natural beaches, without the concrete. The English gang that I was with has all left now, so it's me, and one crazy Texan called Troy who's been here for 3 months recovering from a knee injury caused by a car accident he had in Kuwait. The Indian couple that runs the huts are spot on, and I feel like Sanjay, the husband, is my dad in a way. He's given me advice, looked after me when I've been sick, and given me the occasional knuckle rub on the head. There hasn't been a cloud in the sky for over a month, it just doesn't get cloudy or rain here. The days are filled with hot hazy bliss, and the nights are cool enough to sleep...most of the time. Seeing as the huts are pretty flimsy, some are joined together by wooden logs. A few nights after I arrived here, the couple in the hut next to me shagged like rabbits until the early hours of the morning. backwards and forwards all bloody night. I started getting motion sickness as both our huts rocked back and forth as one. Bugger this I thought, so I grabbed my blanket and slept the rest of the night in a hammock under a coconut tree. I'd rather risk a coconut landing on my head then play another game of 'virtual shag', without the reward. Alas, I did get my own back a couple of days later with a lovely Swedish girl, except we scared the Tandori chef instead as he made a beeline from under our hut as he tried to prepare a feast of Tandori king prawns for a large dinner group. The Tandori pit was right under the hut. I moved huts the next day to a stand alone. The chef smiled again.
After a couple of weeks of doing sweet FA and sitting on our lazy arses, a few of us from Found Thing's decided to head up to Anjuna, Goa's rave capital. Nine of us, including some of the English crew, rented out a house on the outskirts of Anjuna beach. Lee and I went up on Enfield motorbikes for the 2 hour trip north while the others went by bus. We arrived there for the Wednesday flee market, a huge cluster of makeshift stalls behind the beach with hippies and Indians selling anything from a used paperback to tie dyed mushroom t-shirts. In the sixties, the market was a haven for tripped out hippies selling their second hand stuff so that they could make some rupees to see more of the continent or get high again on acid. These days the hippies are in there somewhere, but the majority of the sellers are Indians, Tibetans and Kashmiris selling their wares. It's a full on experience, and we shopped all afternoon for anything until the market sellers starting packing up and we got fed up.
We asked around the market and sussed out that there was a rave happening near Baga in a place called the Bamboo Forest. This is really what we had come here for, some Goan trance and a laugh. 'Bamboo Forest' was far from pumping out leery trance music when we showed up at about midnight. The organisers had had trouble starting the generator so the only sound that greeted us when we arrived was the howling of a stray dog getting a routine beating from a bunch of other dogs in the local gang, plus the occasional splutter and groan from the generator as the locals tried again and again to start it. No generator, no trance. The flouro dressed trance westerners were getting edgy, with supplies all sorted but no trance to bring them up things were looking grim. Then about an hour later, the generator splutted once more and sprang into a roaring 1st gear, the music started, our faces beamed and the fun began! All night we jumped like idiots to the beat, and by early morning everyone looked well fried. When the music stopped, now about 6am, we walked through the forest and onto an after party at an abandoned outdoor theatre and once again joined the zombie masses to the beat of the base as the sun came up. A few hours later we stumbled down a dirt road, bought a basket full of cakes from this old frazzled Indian guy on a bicycle and caught a rickshaw back to the house and slept. I woke after sunset and felt like death warmed up. We all showered, got changed and headed up to the beach for dinner and to contemplate where tonight's activities would take us...I fell asleep during dinner, and as we paid the bill, off in the distance came the sound of more thumping trance. Like the Morlocks summoning the workers out of Time Machine, we marched like zombies with outstretched hands towards the music. Star Wars was the name of the night, and even harder trance music blasted our senses than the following night. Jesus Christ, were we really up for this? After a couple of Red Bull and Vodka's and some more microdots and a few uppers, Lee, the Daves, Berry and myself charged into the dance pit and let loose! We had made camp on the mats where an old lady was selling chai, so we came back and ordered a round of chai and watched the masses of western tourists, again dressed in anything from a old skinny guy who had been in Anjuna way too long, wearing just a pair of flouro Speedos, to a blond girl wearing a tasty little fairy outfit complete with flashing lights on all the right bits. After a few hours we nicknamed the chai lady the Tax Collector, as she insisted that we either drink her chai constantly and give her custom, or we get the hell off her mats. Angry little dwarf of a woman she was, complete with a thousand warts sprouting from her twisted body. Now there's only so much bloody chai you can drink before you start getting bad feelings from your stomach, and that's what happened to me. Holding on to a litre of chai and exhausted from the night before, my guts started grumbling and I knew I only had a few minutes to try and find a toilet and somewhere where I could let loose in peace. Salvation was yet far off. In a mad dash like a cripple, my ass cheeks clenched together, I ran along the beach past loved up hippies and cows dressed in costumes, straining to hold on to the inevitable eruption. I was Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the White Rabbit had grown claws and was chasing me. In what seemed like hours later, I stumbled upon a bar and in a sweat pleaded with the owner in a quick desperate hand gesture. He knew what I needed. He led me up some steps and showed me a hole in a wall with a sheet covering the entrance. 'Toilet' he said in broken english as he could see the pain on my face. Fuck I thought, a sheet won't give me any privacy from the dozen or so tourists hanging out around the bar a few meters away. I had no where else to turn, I was a sinner and in that cave was my salvation. HALLELUA!! A thunderous roar shook Anjuna that night, and it wasn't the trance. Relief, I climbed out of my hole and received a nod from the barman and laughs from the others. As I walked back to the sound of trance with head held high I felt like fricken' Superman!
As the night rolled on, things got weirder, or my head they did. One of the two or quite possibly both. As dawn approached (again) and the sky brightened, half a dozen cows decided to storm the rave and ran in on the dance pit with trance still thumping. The beach dogs then woke from their slumber, how the hell they could sleep through the trance I'll never know. With dogs chasing cows and hippies dancing to the beat in flouro, the scene quickly deteriorated into madness. One bull decided he didn't like the tempo and charged the DJ, knocking over a couple of tourists in the effort. We sat back and took it all in with hysterical laughter, and it hit me then how completely and totally mad this country is. It was one of those real travel moments, one where you could laugh and cry all at the same time from overload of the senses and pure happiness. I cried in laughter and I cried from the love affair I was fast developing for this land called India. The night ended in the day again and we all wearily trudged down to Curlies, a restaurant on the beach and laid in the sand watching hang gliders jump off cliffs behind us in our frazzled state. We had all had enough of raving. I'm too old for this shit I thought as we made our way back to the harmony of Palolem in the south that afternoon. As I rode along that coastal rode on my Enfield that afternoon, the cool breeze rushed through my hair and slowly soothed my frazzled state.
That night back on Palolem Beach, we read in a Goan newspaper that the Bamboo Forest rave that we had gone to on the 1st night had completely upset an early morning ceremony at a local girls school as they tried to celebrate the 50th anniversary of India's independence. The clip in the paper read in disgust, that as respectable young school girls raised the Indian flag in the early morning, and tried in earnest to listen to their national anthem, all they could hear was the blearing thump of acid trance music in the distance. The editor made it clear that raves were parties arranged by evil doers and that they had no place in Goa's respectable society. We laughed as we read this, but in truth I kind of agreed with the newspaper. It was so much fun, and I could just picture the proud principal trying to put on a proud and patriotic show for his students, only to be drowned out by our western fucked up blaring trance. Sad yet disturbingly funny.
About three weeks ago, I decided that if I'm ever going to leave Goa and see the rest of India, I'd like to see it in a way that's different from the thousands of other forlorn backpackers like myself see it. In Kovolam in Kerala, when I first flew in from the Maldives, I met a Canadian guy in his fifties riding around the south of India on a 125cc Honda Hero motorbike. He got talking about how he loves the freedom of having the bike and being able to see areas that most people wouldn't see. Fuck it, I thought, I'm going to buy a motorbike. And here I am. I am now the proud (and scared shitless!) owner of a 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. If you can imagine what the old English BSA or Norton motorbikes that were made for the Second World War looked like, the Enfield's are very similar. They ooze character, and have a stubborn kick to match. They are completely unreliable, and have a tendency to break down even when cruising at 70km's per hour on a straight highway like mine has done a couple of times. In fact as I type this it's sitting in the mechanics again. But in Indian time and how frustratingly slowly they do things here, I still haven't got it back, it's been a week now...shanti shanti is the Indian answer...slowly slowly. I feel like shoving their shanti shanti where the sun doesn't shine sometimes, patience is not one of my stronger points, but I'm learning! 'India time' - so unbelievably frustrating when you want something done, but I've learnt that it's no good yelling at some poor Indian who knows no different. Enfield's were originally made in England after the war, however in 1960 the factory was relocated to Chennai, and that's where they are still being made. They haven't changed in style in over 50 years. There are a few different models now, like the Thunderbird and the Machismo, but the Bullet is the original. Mine is 10 years old, and has just had a new paint job and service. I bought it off an Israeli guy who rode it down from Delhi after it had an engine refit. She really is a stunner...mum, meet the new girlfriend! Troy, the Texan, has also decided to ride with me and bought an Enfield a week or so ago. He says kicking the bike over might help his knee recover. I keep telling him that the reason is he misses driving his big Texan Chevy pickup. Both Troy's bike and mine came with a lot of camping stuff, so we hope to stop along the way quite a bit and camp as much as we can. We've already camped down the coast on a deserted beach for a couple of nights, so we know now that the camping stove, hammocks and everything else that came with the bikes work. All we have to do now is get the bikes on the road and keep them there.
So, on our newly bought bikes, Troy and I thought that before we truly start the road trip up into the north, we should head out to a place about 400km's due east from here in the state of Karnataka called Hampi for a test run. People that we had met in Palolem raved about the place and said that it was well worth checking out. The night before I had proceeded to get well drunk, and with beer goggles on asked a Russian girl staying in our huts if she would like to come with us on the back of my Enfield. After a while of trying to persuade her she agreed. Later on I came back from a bar up the beach to find her sleeping in my hut all packed and ready to go. Jesus I thought, Russian girls don't mess about. Troy had a Philippine friend Marianne come along as well so the four of us headed out of Goa early the next day for the 10 hour ride to Hampi. We got lost in Goa somewhere, and didn't make it even anywhere near the border that night. So we found an 'Eco Lodge' on the main highway right near a huge truck stop. Hardly an Eco lodge, it was more like a set of bungalows set in a dusty garden that shook every time one of the hundreds of mining trucks passed by during the night. The next day we headed off and after another 12 hour ride, ended up in Hampi at about 10pm that night covered in a thick layer of dust from the dirt roads we had drive on to get there. We could have taken the highway option, but we wanted the scenic route. We all wished we had taken the highway after two days of riding through potholes, some as big as a back yard swimming pool. Troy looked like a drag queen with all the dirt over his face and I looked like I'd been rolling around in a school playground. The girls came out cleaner then the bikes, god knows how they stayed that clean.
Hampi is a beautiful place and I loved it immediately. It's set in a series of small lush green valleys filled with rice paddies, farming communities and all surrounded by amazing rock formations and a divide of two rivers running through it. The whole place gives you the feeling that you're on another planet, maybe something like Mars would look like if Nasa ever terraformed it and found a way to grow plants there. Hampi to a Hindu is what Mecca is to a Muslim. It's the holiest place in India, and many Hindu's come here for that very reason. Ruins can be found everywhere you look, temples, ancient baths, stone bridges, and in amongst all this Indians live like they would have hundreds of years ago. Except now the e age has transformed many of the shops into internet cafes and tourist progress is taking its toll on this sleepy town. I found Hampi to be the most peaceful and serene place I've been to so far in India, and as I sat in a temple one late afternoon by myself watching a monkey sleeping and a Saddhu offering prayers, an overwhelming sense of peace swept through me. Never before have I experienced this feeling, the place really is magical. A few days later I told the Russian girl to find her own way back to Palolem, all she had done the whole time was winged and not paid for a single thing, and she treated everyone like shit. Troy, Marianne and I had had enough so I told her where to go. She came stalking me a few days later when we arrived back in Palolem. Scary! Next time I'll be more careful...
We strayed on in Hampi a few days, and waited until Troy's bike had some repairs before making our way back to Goa. One the way back, my bike just cut out and I ended up having to get Troy to tow me a few k's to the nearest Enfield mechanic where some electrical work had to be done to get it back to working. We eventually arrived back in Palolem at 3am the next morning, 18 hours after we had set off! I felt like driving the bike straight onto the beach and into the sea when we got back.
So now, let me give an introduction to...INDIA'S ROAD RULES -
Indian roads are completely different from the relative harmony and ease of driving our roads in Australia. 1st of all, there are no rules. 2nd, there is a distinctive pecking order. At the top of the food/vehicle chain, trucks and buses take the lead. TATA trucks in particular are the bullies of the road. Everything, except cows, gets well out of the way of these things, and for good reason. Cows, as everyone knows in India, are the most sacred animal on earth, well at least in India. They can be found everywhere, from lounging around on a beach to eating cardboard and any other garbage on any road. Mostly they are found walking casually, or lying asleep, in the middle of the national highway and the busiest traffic intersection. If god was an animal in India, he would be a cow. Untouchable and left to their own devices, these obligatory garbage munchers are the true rulers of the roads of India. Top of the highway food chain. Next come trucks and buses. These vehicles stop for nothing, and the idiots driving them always overtake other trucks at a casual rate on blind corners. After all, where's the fun of overtaking on a straight? I stay well away from these guys, and anticipation of their moves is the number one survival tactic. Next down the chain come cars and rickshaws. Not as big as their predators, however Indians driving cars still believe they are on motorbikes, which means they take the full width of the road and weave around trucks on corners at the last minute. In a way, these smaller vehicles are more dangerous than their clumsy predators. Next comes motorbikes, and there are a shit load of motorbikes on the roads, higher in number than any other vehicle. Generally, these are the easiest to avoid. Motorbike riders have a certain respect for other motorbike riders, except when in a big city and 10 motorbikes are scrambling to get through a gap in the road barely big enough for one. Also at petrol stations. Very often the petrol runs out at stations and there's a free-for-all when the petrol truck turns up and 50 motorbike riders are waiting to get filled up. Forget about having a place in a queue here, people will push and shove their bikes into yours just to get in front of you. A couple of times now I've lost it and started yelling at the pushy Indian bastard in front of me for taking my spot. But like in all situations, Indians never get angry and road rage is none existent, so it looks pretty funny to other Indians when a westerner starts ranting and raving at an Indian. Bicycles are at the very bottom of the vehicle food chain. No one stops for them, and poor little Indians get pushed off the road as they're cycling home from work or taking a oversized load of plastic buckets to the local market. One guy I saw had been pushed off the road into a ditch and all his silver pots and pans he had been carrying were splayed about him in a heap. He still had a smile on his face though, must be used to it by now I suppose. Oxen carts and tractors are kind of an exception to the food chain. There are so many carts still being pulled by oxen or Brahman bulls even these days, and because they don't have any sort of tail lights, you have to be careful on dusk not to run up the arse of them. Even overtaking these carts is a hazzard, as the bulls horns stick out so far that you have to give a wide berth to them.
And last comes India's animal road hazzards. Cows are easy to predict, they move slow across the road in a straight line and don't even flinch at oncoming traffic, so determining their path usually gets you well clear. Stray dogs are not too bad either, and there are shit loads of them. They're fairly road wise, and a quick blow on the horn usually gets them out of the way pretty quickly. They're not like the stupid dogs at home, these dogs have road sense bread into them. Now chickens are a different story. These dumb animals are the worst culprits of the road. When they see you coming, they make a mad dash for one side of the road then decide that the other side might be safer so make a sudden change in direction and back and forth they go in the radius of the front wheel until when you're just about on them, they chirp and jump in the air to catch either the motorbike headlight or the top of the front wheel. So far, a chicken is the only thing I've run over. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it was bloody stupid. Goats are fine when they're being herded along the road by their shepherd. But alone, they too have a mind of their own and are clueless about anything except for garbage, the only thing on their mind. If they see a piece of rubbish on the other side of the road, they will ignore traffic to go over and munch on it. Pigs are probably second behind chickens in stupidity. If one gets separated from the others on the other side of the road, it will run straight in front of you even if it means sparing it's life, just so it can be with the rest. Their beady eyes will always follow you without turning their heads, but you never know if they're gonna make that mad dash to the other side. So there it is, the madness of India's roads! Never a dull moment. Like the old Atari game, Frogga.
There is one other problem with the Enfield. The muffler on it is pretty loud, and has a resounding thumping whop coming from it so people can hear miles ahead we're coming. That's fine. The problem is, bulls hate the sound of the muffler and twice now I've been charged. Second time was a very narrow escape as I drove through the main street of Hampi with a raging bull in tow and a mentally deranged Russian girl on the back screaming at me in Russian. So I have to be careful when parking the bike near a bunch of cows, cause there'll most likely be a bull in there somewhere with a sore head, and my bike will be his target. I've decided to avoid Russian girls for the rest of the trip as well.
That's it for now. If you're in Oz and interested, Australian Readers Digest has bought my tsunami story and will be publishing it in the March edition, so check it out if you like.
Unfortunately this time i haven't been able to add any pics. The internet here is as slow as a dead dog and I could sit here for hours waiting for one pic to upload...so I'll save them for later.
Tomorrow if all goes well, Troy and I will head off up north into Maharashtra and then into Gujurat and Rajasthan, leaving the easy beach life scene behind us and the escape from the real India we are yet to immerse ourselves in. I will really miss this place that has been a home for over the past month, and I'm sad to say goodbye to Sanjay and Sandiya and the other guys who have been like family to us at Found Thing's. But that is the way I guess, moving on brings change and change is good for the spirit right.
Apparently one of my uncles on dad's side was once a prince of India, and he has a big estate in the hill station area of Lonavale a few hundred k's north from here. He's dead now, but my cousin who I don't know has kept the estate. So we're going to try our luck and turn up on his doorstep in the next few days...'Hey cous, you don't know me, but is there any chance of getting a room for the night?'...
Until next time...