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Supporting appealmobile on his world travels

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Ride to Kolkata (Extended version)

I left Project mala before lunch after photo shoots and last minute dealings. It was a sad occasion but I had come to ride India to raise funds and this is work. I am never more happy than when I am on the open road and all tinges of sadness of leaving my lovely friends behind was compensated by the excitement of new meetings.

I decided to call into Varanasi, as for some reason I omitted a photo shoot the week before. What could go wrong? I had been there only one week earlier but somehow missed a turn and spent an hour finding my way back to the Ganges. The good thing about a city on the river is that as long as you know what side of town the city is in trelation to the river and as long as you have sun in the sky you can't go wrong. I wasted a good hour or two finding my way back to the place I had left a week before. The worse was finding my way out. I knew there was a bridge south and it meant following the banks of the Ganges to the bridge. Easier said than done as the road to the bridge was like a ploughed field to be complimentary to the field.

I reached the highway and headed east to Kolkata riding as hard as I could. I started atr a steady 60 km/hr the upped it to 80 as I gained confidence in the roads and the bike. The roads aren't that bad really except for some occasional bad repair, especially over any sort of bridge. A lesson that came fast to me as I encountered some atrocious conditions approaching, crossing and exiting such facilities.

I stopped late in the afternoon at one such bridge and realised I was standing in frront of the chicken slaughter house. Rural. I witnessed the execution of half a dozen chickens, without emotion and recognising that I actually eat the said creatures without confronting their deaths. I was the subject of much curiousity of some locals and wasn't sure how friendly or how hostile they were. It's difficult when they can't speak your language and you can't speak theirs. Distrust can easily set in.

I eventually arrived at Aurangabad. I wanted to go further but it was getting cold and dark so I pulled into this town. There was no street lighting and finding a hotel while riding was impossible. So I parked and found a hotel that cost me 600 rupees and wasn't that nice, but hey it was a bed. How bad didn't occur to me till the eveninbg as songs/prayers were heard all evening till twelve pm. I eventually slept but only till some unearthly hour when prayers were broadcasted by tannoy a hundred yards from my window. It was a night from hell. Made worse when I woke at seven to more prayers, went downstairs to get a cup of tea and found the staff asleep with locked doors and no escape. I waited half an hour before I decided I needed out and woke the poor guy to open the door to get out for a cuppa. (more to follow)

I omitted to mention the riding conditions both, traffic and other road users. The first experience of how crowded the roads were was in Varanasi. I had stopped at a level crossing and it was packed with bikes and cars with no semblance of order. As soon as the barrier went up, there was about two hundred bikes and fifty cars trying to squeeze through the gap left by the hordes coming in the opposite direction. I had only moved ten yards and had to stop so put my foot down on the tarmac as one does when a four by four drove over it. The rest is all about speed bumps and bridges. They have a multitude of designs, none of which corresponds with any in England, except in supermarket car parks, maybe/ The first is the basic one strip upturned semi circular type. No ramp just instant shock to the wrists and shoulders. Then come multiple variations on this them. Double strip where the space between is just enough for the front wheel to settle. They have even come up with the triple, quadruple, and even five and six strips, which just about shake you and the bike to pieces as both wheels are bucking over different strips at unsynchronised stages. The final one is a series of craters. These are the worse as you can't see them or judge the depth of them till you are half way over the handlebars.

I left Aurangabad that morning and there was a change in the weather. Only two hours along the road and I was thinking how nice a day it was and the landscape had changed to a hilly scrub land. I stopped to take pictures and the cloud came. Once the sun disappears up north the chill sets in. I continued shivering and eventually stopped for a chai to warm myself up. I decided to invest in a warm jacket. The poor guy in the store was getting really mad with me as I was rejecting everything he showed me as they were all too small. I am a giant here and I wasn't going to pay a tenner for some jacket that I couldn't lift a pint to my mouth in. Eventually he found a really naff one that barely fitted and cost me nine pound. It did the trick and I felt the benefits immediately. I pushed on hoping I could get near to Kolata that evening and leave myself a short stint the following morning. It was getting late and with the warmth of my jacket I was tempted to break my rule of not riding at night and push on. However the road became rough terrain again and I lost my nerve at the thought of being unseated by an unseen speed bump or crater. I pulled into Durgapur or steel city as it is known. I struggled to find a hotel at a price I could afford, but found an internet cafe and located a couple of guest house lodges that looked reasonable. I somehow managed to confuse myself when storing the map in my head and spent a couple of hours riding around in the pitch black in the industrial area. I somehow got lucky and found this market street in Bennachitty which is basically the same place. It was one of those crazy market streets so stopped to get a chicken roll but finished up with two for some reason. The guy at the stall told me there was a hotel not 400 yards further up the street and lo and behold there was and not only was there a hotel but it was pretty decent and only 400 rupees. Bike stored in the passage and down to the off licence for a couple of bottles and then settle down.

I was up early again and had a breakfast curry to start me off. I hit the road and immediately wished I had continued the night before as it turned into motorway standard of England. I quickly rattled off the miles and landed on the Ganges just after lunch.Photo stop at the temple and then headed into the centre which took forever. It was my lucky day and I found myself in a district called Newmarket. The name reassured me that this was the British colonial area of old and there would be bound to be cheap hotels there. I found one but he wanted a thousand Rupees for a double for the night. I said no. He said how much would I pay and made the mistake of giving him a range of 4 to 6 hundred. instead of just saying 5 hundred. He immediately said I could have the double for six but couldn't have it till the occupant left at nine pm. I had spotted a bar around the corner so agreed. Off to the bar which was very British friendly to the point of sycophantic and bided my time in a most wonderful way

Photos will follow soon

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