The Royal Enfield India Motorcycle Rally Part 3

Wednesday I wake up at 5.00am to the sound of piped religious music ripping it’s way across the mountain. The sunrise is fairly pink, and although beautiful, one of the least spectacular of the trip. We do some routine maintenance to hold our bikes together, treat them to some oil, pack our packed lunches, fill up with fresh drinking water, eat breakfast and head towards the morning meeting. At the meeting Jean-Mark dictates our directions to us, it reminds me of being at school furiously writing to keep up as the history teacher filled us in on 1066 etc. Then Jean-Mark treats us to a summary of the previous day’s accidents. One person left the road due to taking a corner too fast suffering minor cuts and bruises. Another crashed into a wall suffering cuts and bruises. A couple riding pillion, came off on a corner due to the road being coated in diesel because a truck had dumped it’s fuel as it went round the bend with it’s fuel tank too full. This is a common problem in India, making diesel another unexpected hazard of corners. Fortunately the couple only suffered cuts, grazes and bruises. I felt like a cop at the beginning of “Hill Street Blues” almost expecting Jean-Mark to say…”Let’s be careful out there”. Then he says that some of us had become separated from our groups, could we please stick together as we are riding in a dangerous country.

We set off for our destination, this time descending the mountain, the first part of the journey is a dirt track, where Mike unfortunately drops his bike at low speed, snapping the front brake lever, he courageously picks the bike up, starts it and continues brakeless.

As we descend the mountain our resident celebrity, Tamara Beckwith-Smith, and her American boyfriend, Todd, decides to ride with Mike and myself for a while. We’re going at quite a rate so as to enjoy the mountain curves, and Todd is keeping up not just admirably but safely as well as he is quite an experienced rider, it seems. After coming down the mountain we are on quite a flat straight road, enjoying speeds of about 60mph. Todd is in front of me when some cows walk out in front of him, just missing him and his celebrity pillion, leaving me to cope with the sacred road obstructions. As I slam on the brakes hoping to stop, change down through the gears to help slow the bike down, I wonder what happens to people who run cows over in India. As they are sacred animals do they stone you, put you in prison, fleece you of all your cash and worldly goods? Fortunately I screech to a halt so close to the herd of beasts as to be engulfed in damp cow breath, my heart pumping like an Enfield’s piston whilst being thrashed up a mountain. The creatures are not only oblivious to the near miss they have just narrowly escaped with me, but also the one they had just avoided with the English celebrity.

One saddle sore Tamara Beckwith-Smith

Mike is far enough behind me not to be too worried by the cows, but close enough to see the funny side. We decide we ought to slow it down, as we watch Todd and Tammy disappear into the horizon, their velocity unchanged by the cow skirmish.

We carry on at about 50mph, as we take the next bend there’s one of our groups bikes in the road, and a commotion in the village by the side of the road, so we stop to see what’s going on. The rider is alright, it transpires that as he took the corner an Indian on another Enfield took the same corner, coming from the opposite direction, but decided to do so on the wrong side of the road. The bikes collided head on and our rider landed face down in the dirt by the side of the road outside an excited villager’s house. The Indian man ended up in a bush on the opposite side of the road, both men appear to have only suffered cuts and bruises, so I treat them to the healing powers of Sudo cream, a very antiseptic nappy cream for babies. Immediately one of the women comes over with her child pointing to a bloody bandage on the child’s ankle. I give her some of the magic white cream wrapped in a small parcel of plastic in case anyone else needs some. I then realise what poverty means, not being able to afford antiseptic for your injured child’s wound.

There's nothing like a good photo after a crash.
There’s nothing like a good photo after a crash.

The villagers want us to take their photographs, to which I oblige, as they sew up our rider’s ripped bag. The film crew arrive, and are busily filming a small boy they have just taught to give them five, so we take it as the cue that everyone is all right and move on.

We arrive at the next town, called Palani, to be harassed by a very determined salesman who’s trying to flog Mike a lucky tigers tooth. The peddler, who is certainly forceful, won’t be shaken off, he thrusts the “lucky tiger’s tooth” into his hand, Mike holds it up to inspect, and it looks like the spur from the back of a cockerel’s foot. The price has dropped from four hundred rupees to seventy, still the merchandise is unsold, but now Mike’s holding it, and as far as the peddler’s concerned he is not taking it back, it’s sold, fifty rupees. Then, to add to the confusion women from the town come up to us with their babies pressurising us to give them money. They get the infant’s hands, hold them out palm up and stick the child’s upturned palms under our noses. At this I feel angry and hard, emotional blackmail makes my blood boil, it always has. Then a religious procession engulfs us with towns people dressed in orange, shaking bunches of tiny bells and with one man banging a drum. The salesman now wants thirty rupees, the children and mothers all want their money even more now. Mike looks helpless whilst still holding “lucky tiger’s tooth”, not knowing what to do with it. At this point, after taking in a bit of the procession yet wanting to escape the persistent begging, he takes the beggar’s hand, places “tiger’s tooth” in the man’s palm, closes the fingers over it and says assertively, “No! Paul, let’s get out of here”. The undeterred pedlar holds up a necklace and says, “Lucky necklace?” We start our bikes and leave that town.

If you don't want Lucky Tigers Tooth, buy Lucky Necklace?
If you don’t want Lucky Tigers Tooth, buy Lucky Necklace?

That afternoon the ride starts to become quite arduous. No more beautiful mountains, just lots of towns and paddy fields. The group of forty we had started riding in, has now become a rabble of different small groups of people riding together. It’s undisciplined yet works well, we have claimed our individuality at the same time as being part of a group and we ride at any speed we feel like, there’s no leader.

We stop at a small town and drink orange soda, it’s very refreshing as we’re quite de-hydrated from the heat. Half way through my second one I realise this isn’t Fanta, but home made, I tell our group of four so we all stop drinking and panic a little, we’re terrified that we’re going to get ill. Robert, one of the guides rides up, wanting to know if there’s something wrong. After I tell him our concern, he laughs and says that it’s all right as long as it’s soda water.

As we ride along a straight and hilly road, rather like the road that the cows had walked out in front of us on, we pass a small village on our right. We thunder past the village at about 50 mph feeling relaxed and, to be quite honest I’m having a bit of a “Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider” moment. Suddenly from between two bushes to my right, another of those horned, sacred beasts stray out, about ten feet in front of my machine. I swerve to the right, down change whilst praying for a forward gear rather than a false neutral, open the throttle back to the stop, and feel the dampness of cow breath and drool over my hand, whilst roaring past the animal. I slow down to a standstill and look over my shoulder to see Mike struggling to control his rear brake only machine. He stops inches from the cow which he says is looking at him as if to say “Eat my breath- human!” Mike asks me, “ I wonder what happens if you hit a cow in India?” We decide to slow down, especially in the light of the bad cow day feeling that is pervading the day.

We push on to a large city called Palghat, where we have to wait at a level crossing, which gives us our first sight of an Indian train. Like the buses they have no glass in the windows and are predominantly the colour of rust. The level crossing goes up and we head on past Fantasy Park Rock Garden and onto to our final resting-place for the night at the Govardhana Holiday village in Malamphuradam. It’s a series of dormitories, in which we are to sleep on the floor on rush matting; so this is to be our first night roughing it. Although there’s no hot water, there is a river at the back of our accommodation in which I and about ten others go for a very refreshing swim. The current is so strong that if you swim in opposition to it you stay still. We swim and watch the sun go down feeling fatigued yet exhilarated.

You can't swim against the tide.
You can’t swim against the tide.

At dinner I’m offered an alcoholic coconut drink, called Toddy. It tastes disgusting, however it also turns out that, previously unknown to me, it produces pleasant, yet very mild hallucinations in the form of small flashes of light.

Paul Jayson

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