Everyone told me, India is going to be a mess with my head. I couldn’t believe the amount of nerves setting in. I felt almost sick. But I wasn’t sure if it was because my friends were about to leave and I had to say good bye once again or it will be the first time since Australia that I am back to travelling on my own. What ever it was, I wasn’t feeling like myself. Mel, Jarred and I travel together mostly in silence to the airport. Little did I know how much it was worrying me until I thought I lost something.
I have a grey pencil case that contains my money, passport and credit card. Normally I keep this in my tank bag and where ever I go, my tank bag comes with me. When Mel, Jarred and I went to Negombo township to do some last minute shopping. We locked our luggage up in the store room of the guest house. After shopping we left for the airport and attempted to check in. But apparently the gate had shut. We were told to visit the main office upstairs. Walking down several empty corridors we eventually find the room with no one in it. But six other people were there in my situation. Being first in queue, I went to get my grey pencil case out of the tank bag, only to discover it was missing. My world crashed down, hairs stood on end and I felt physically sick. Quietly I tell Mel and we walk back down to when Jarred is sitting quietly with all our bags.
Grabbing my blue bag, I tried to open my combination lock with my shaky hands. Knowing that its completely useless, I still pulled things out one by one until I spot the grey pencil case stuffed down the side of bag. I instantly feel relief, now remembering it would be safer there. Gathering my stuff, I grab only what I need to obtain my ticket and head back upstairs. On our way back to the room, we come across everyone heading back down stairs. Apparently now we are allowed to check in.
Once again heading back down stairs I grab my bags off Jarred and proceed to the check in counter. I pile on my two pannier bags, ultra heavy with spare parts from Australia and all my cooking equipment, tent etc. Then I pile on my new spare tyre that Steve from ‘Adventuremoto‘ gave me. It comes to 26 kilograms, 6 kilograms over weight. Luckily for me they didn’t care. I couldn’t carry any more stuff on board as I had a huge ‘Sea to Summit’ roll bag, tank bag, helmet and jacket.
The next morning, I venture out into the street to discover my first crazy city of India – Chennai. Yeah it was dusty, people everywhere, human excrement on the footpath. But overall, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Walking towards the office of my shipping agent, I got accidentally flashed by an Indian wearing a sarong! I was passing cows wondering around through the traffic without a care. Palm leave shanty towns built up against any free wall available, but no one bothered me as I walked past. Other than these few things, walking down the street is very similar to any other Asian country, having to step over things consistently. They only extra to the equation is human and cow excrement.
I decided to get help, and employ a shipping agent that several people had used before. Mr Gratian Grovias from Grovias and Grovias. He has been working in the shipping industry since he was 14 working along side his father for many years until his father passed away. Since then his brother and himself took over the business and is now carrying on the family business.
By employing Gratian, I am relieved of the duties of trying to import the motorcycle in to the country. I have heard of many people facing weeks of frustration trying to get the right people to stamp their carnet de passage. Knowing India is going to be a difficult country I didn’t want to make it even more difficult for myself by struggling with Indian government bureaucracy.
Trying not to waste too much of Mr Grovias time, I quickly give him the paperwork he requires and was about to leave when he asked if I wanted a real Indian coffee. I couldn’t turn down trying this after the three weeks in Sri Lanka where the best coffee I could get was the one I made myself. A young Indian boy returns with a thick creamy looking coffee. Mr Grovias explains that the coffee is put into a sock and then water is poured over it. They repeat this process repetitively adding milk and sugar to the mixture.
We spend an hour chatting away about life. Reading me pretty quickly he sums me up as an independent person, which is pretty apparent as I am standing there before him, on my own and in an exotic country.
Mr Grovias, suggests that I head south to a small tourists town called Mamallapuram instead of waiting for my motorcycle in the dirty city of Chennai. Worried about getting on the bus with three huge heavy bags, a helmet, motorcycle jacket and a tyre, he tells me to return back at his office at 2pm and he will take me to his city house on the back of his Royal Emfield motorcycle, where will pick up his car. From there we returned back to my hotel where I got my stuff and checked out. We travel south to Mamallapuram talking consistently. He shares his views on life, love and marriage with me. A lot of it I agree with and some I will take away with me to think about.
Mamallapuram streets are filled with tourists trinket shops. Each overly friendly owner stands outside waiting for a new customer to pass to entice them inside. Amongst the shops are guest houses,hotels, restaurants, sand and cows. Outside the two major tourist streets lies the normal village. Walking down these streets are where I find the true Indian life and a shop that sells oil and brake fluid. After much discussion with the owner of the different types of oil, I decide to buy the only 4 stroke oil that is on offer. I am now prepared to pick up my motorcycle.
Unknown to me, I arrived at the start of the Pongal Festival. This is a festival that only takes place in the Tamil region once a year. Tamil’s use this weekend to celebrate this years harvest. I joined the masses in the heat to visit the stone temples dotted all around Mamallapuram. On Monday, I walked up to the main road in search of a supermarket. Before I even hit the main road I could see hundreds of men, women and children. The men are dressed in tidy, clean dress pants and a shirt. The women are dressed sari’s in all kinds of colours wearing bells around their ankles. I found out later that day, that millions of people descend upon the village of Mamallapuram to bath their feet at the end of the festival. It was only this year that they implemented a route for the pilgrims to endure after many years of trouble with drunken pilgrims amongst the tourist.
I joined two Dutch tourist Cole and Daphna, who I had meet in the Indian Embassy in Sri Lanka for dinner. We were invited upstairs to join a small private party consisting of the owner of the restaurant, another Indian local and a Sri Lankan artist. We were sitting on grass mats with our legs crossed under us, around a short wooden table over looking the ocean. We were handed a beer each and soon a joint was passed around. Sooryia, the Sri Lankan artist soon takes over the conversation and starts telling us the short version of his life. Starting in a depths of the Sri Lankan jungle over 30 years ago, he meet a young American who could play the flute. When her holiday finished, she returned back to America leaving behind her flute that he loved so much. Many years later he arrives into America packing only the flute. She asks him to marry her, but he said give me a year and I will see.
During that year he travels all around America, returning to her to marry her. He found out afterwards that the hippy he married did in fact come from a really wealthy family, he was introduced to many influential people who brought his artworks. Years later after leading a simple life with his wife and child even though they could afford a more luxurious one, she asked for a divorce. Heart broken he gives up his lover, his child and of course the money. Now the flute in his life has almost gone except for the CD he brought to remind him of that time in his life. Now a days, he lives in Hawaii creating artwork for people all over the world.
Walking down the quiet street, I find it odd, how unexpected life can be. When you think your just going out for dinner with two friends, then it turns into sharing a drink with a famous artist who wants to tell you his life story. It makes me wonder what I am going to be like when I am his age and if I am going to be able to tell my story with such passion.
At three o’clock in the afternoon, I received a call from Mr Grovias, ‘please jump on a bus and come up here immediately. We should be able to take profession of your motorcycle this afternoon.’ I grab my bag full of engine oil, break fluid, hosing and my liquid contamination fuel bladder. Racing to the bus station, I realised I had left my helmet and motorcycle keys behind. Eventually, I make it to the bus station. None of the buses said Parry’s (pronounced Paris) or Broadway, I jump on a bus with two other tourist who have been told this is the bus to Chennai.
We arrive at a bus station far from both our destinations, they were hoping to get closer to Egmore, which is not far from mine. We get told there is no bus to Egmore or Parry’s from this bus station and get shown the direction to the train station. Pushing our way down an narrow alley way that served as a central market, with produce waste piled high down the centre of the road. Fat cows lazy plodded down the road nibbling on the best waste. We eventually push past everyone, and board a nearly empty train. My fellow travellers jump out at their stop and I carry on to mine. One guy in the train had taking a liking to me, and was asking me questions about cricket, New Zealand economy and was wanting to see my international drivers licence. There was no way I was going to hand over it to a stranger on the train, so I told a small white lie – ‘My friend that I am now meeting at his office has it’ Thankfully he didn’t ask again.
I arrive at Mr Grovias’s office at 6 pm, the sun was setting and I had been travelling for nearly three hours. I wasn’t really enthusiastic about having to pump tyres, put oil into my bike and least of all, replace the break fluid that Jakarta removed. But the sight of my motorcycle sitting outside his office, brought joy to me. It looked a bit roughed up, as the create that Jakarta shipping agent had gotten build was the most basic one I had ever seen. Mr Grovias was most shocked by the appearance. All the employees chatting amongst themselves saying how they wouldn’t have done it like that.
The boys tear the box apart and I was able to inspect the bike properly. There was nothing major, only a few scratches and my handlebar grips had been scrunched up. Mr Grovias drops me off at the petrol station, where I buy my fuel. I return before he is finished picking up his daughter from the sailing club. I now have to wait for him, as my tyre pump is in his office along with the oil and break fluid. As I continue checking my bike over, answering questions from the employees. I realise that I do indeed have break fluid! I jumped for joy as now I do not have to replace it in the dark. Eventually Mr Grovias arrived and I am able to get to work.
Mr Grovias waits for me patently as he is going to show me the route out of town, since he lived on the road to Mamallapuram. Now it is of course completely dark, I follow him through the city, dodging traffic, and squeeze through traffic jams. 30 kilometres later he stops on the side of the road and hugs me good bye. I carry on south, in search of a petrol station, as I only put three litres in the tank. This should have been enough, but because the tank is split into two, I can not get the last remaining drop out of the tank.
I go no further than five kilometres when my motor splutters and dies. Of course without a battery I now have no lights. I lean my bike over on the side stand and far as I am physically able to, to allow the petrol to flow onto the other side. Lifting my bike up, I hear a piece of metal tink. Looking down into the grass, I see the foot of my side stand sitting there. Damn, I thought to myself. I need my side stand down to start my bike! Looking around me to see what I can use to lean against, I spot a flexible reflective plastic sign, which indicates the side of the road. It has a huge concrete mound around the base. I lean against that and start my motorcycle. I know I’ve probably only got ten kilometres at the best. I ride down the road, to a junction in the road where there were food stalls and people milling around. I ask a man on a push bike where the closest petrol station is. He point to the lights on the far side of the river and say, five kilometers, just turn down the road over there.
I hope he’s right, judging I could walk five kilometres if I had to, pushing my motorcycle as there was no way I was leaving it out here in the dark. Slowly the kilometres ticked past as the lights of the city drew nearer. I entered a dusty town, where the streets were full of people and buses pushing through the town centre. I stop to ask a few younger boys where the petrol station might be. They indicate that it is around the corner. Following their instructions, I find it. Before I had even turned off the engine, I found a place to lean against to help me kick start it, with all the locals peering on, at a white woman on what they were calling a race bike. I head back out, following the same dusty route back to the dark main road heading for Mamallapuram.
The next morning, I found a welder who quickly welded my foot back onto my side stand. I also got them to fix my front fender tool box. The aluminium metal had snapped with the flex in my front mud guard. A simple design error, which now I have corrected by getting the guys to drill two holes and fix the box directly to the mud guard, independent from the rest of the bike. Next stop was a tyre shop. I got them to in store my new tyre as, I could not be bothered struggling to put on a cold tyre at my guest house. With a little bit of guiding it was done in less time it would have taken me.
Now all I had to do was pack and find a map of India. But that wasn’t in stall for me today, as I meet my friends Cole and Daphna in the street. They invited me to come up to Chennai with them and visit the movie sets, meet the directors. They also wanted to find a better street map and have a look at a few motorcycles to buy. But this is never as simple as it sounds, after much discussion with the locals, who kept putting us wrong eventually we walk out to the main road and catch a bus to Chennai that would stop at the correct bus station. We arrived after one lunch break and a couple of hours. Robert (An Indian restaurant owner) picks us up from the fire station and takes us back to his apartment. The three of us cram into the tiny two bedroom apartment along with his wife, his wife’s mother, child and his friend. We sit down on their nice wooden couch and get handed a plate of spring rolls, chips and noodles. After lunch we pile into his car and head around to the movie set. Arriving at a massive, old but empty concrete building, we discover we were moments too late. They have shifted their set to a coffee shop.
Robert then takes us to a large market, which only happens once a year. This market is a combination of nicknack’s, trade displays and amusement rides. A bit like an A&P; show without the animals and farming equipment. We wander around the maze of stalls, buying a map book and two close up maps of the next two districts we are going to be travelling through.
On our way home we stop at an artist shop on the main road of Mamallapuram. We were introduced to the eccentric artist who hadn’t slept in three days. Apparently he has cycled without front or rear brakes from Mamallapuram to Nepal. He featured in many Indian news papers along the way to raise awareness for global warming. He quickly invited us to his art opening the very next morning. Extremely weary after a long busy day we promised to come along and join in for the opening.
I am meant to leave Mamallapuram today, but I can not bring myself to rush and pack up. I ride my motorcycle down to the location of the art exhibition and was invited to bring my motorcycle inside the compound. Kunmar who had invited me, was extremely pleased to see me. He quickly put yellow and red dots onto my motorcycle and one on my fore head.
A 70 year old monk has started the ceremony. Blessing the main painting behind the marquee, chanting continually. The family, having to make sure they picked up the right piece of stick, grass or sugar at the right time, sprinkling it over the fire or themselves. This went on for awhile, then I was invited to join in. I had milk poured into my hand which I had to sprinkle onto the fire. More milk was poured into my hand for which I had to drink from. Then I was handed a piece of palm sugar to eat. Nibbling away on the sweet treat, the ceremony moved to my motorcycle. The monk, blessing my motorcycle with flames and rice. I also had to make sure some of the flame covered me. Placing a lemon on the ground, I then had to push my bike over it ensuring it got squashed with both wheels. Now I am able to have a safe journey through India. If I am ever able to leave this town!