Where it all began…
We began by flying into New Delhi from Tel Aviv and arriving at 4:30 in the morning.
It turns out that when they proclaim ‘nothing you do can quite prepare you for India’ , they aren’t just being whimsically prophetic….its real.
“Welcome to Thunderdome, Bitch.”
The drive from the New Delhi airport in a tiny sized mini van, even if it was 5 am, was India’s way of grinning ‘welcome to thunderdome, bitch.’ The first thing you experience is a hot, steamy, overwhelming feeling that everything you knew is gone, so prepare for the unexpected.
In this mini van, driven by Aju (who picked us up at the airport instead of getting a taxi), we sped through the rickety, sleepy, hazy streets of Paharganj dodging cows, dogs, Indians sleeping in the street, kamakazi rikshaw drivers, potholes amidst other traffic hazards so commonplace to Delhi infrastructure.
As we sped through it all, here was my only thought.
“Driving in this place scares the hell out of me.“
India Slams The Senses…
After arriving at the guesthouse, I checked in and slept a few hours in a double room with ‘character’. I should say however, that room has been the cleanest so far, AND had hot water, so it gets a 5 star rating in my book.
When the sun broke through the streets, things became alive quickly. Just walking 100 yards down the street slams every sense you have consistently, so you become hypersensitive….which is a good thing, unless you want to become a hit and run victim.
There are smells piled on top of smells, people piled on top of people, and seemingly some of the most fearless, pissed off and unhappy cows that have lived. Everything is all squeezed together and you can feel the heat. It has been incredibly unforgettable.
Now, How To Buy A Motorcycle?
The first day we set off in search of a Royal enfield motorcycle that has the potential to take us around northern India.
We got some good advice and happened upon a place called ‘Bullet Wallahs’, right around the corner from where we were staying. Balu, the owner from New Mexico, and his Italian wife Laura were a pleasure to deal with and were incredibly helpful in preparing us for the road ahead.
We bought a 1986 golden 350 cc Enfield Bullet that had been completely rebuilt. A luggage rack was put on, as well as a back rest for the passenger, for about the price of a few beers.
Also, in preparation for our trip up to Nepal which may or may not happen on the bike, we fitted a 21 liter tank. Gas stations are few and far between up there. Once all the preparations were made we left New Delhi at 7 in the morning toward Agra, just south of Delhi and the home of the ogled Taj Majal.
Riding through India has been a blast, but getting used to the traffic rules (made to be broken here. In fact at times it seems that the only existing rules are your own personal ones for survival.) has been how do you say, a royal pain in the ass.
I once thought it was commonplace not to three point turn in the middle of a crowded highway, but not anymore.
I once thought it was universally accepted that you don’t drive 50 kilometers and hour the wrong way on a two lane street, but not anymore.
And somewhere deep in the back of my brain I once considered passing other vehicles within inches on either side with no horn, 14 passengers packed on the roof, one riding inside the open hood and a goat in the back, bad form.
But all my silly preconceptions of safety have all but melted away after spending time on a motorcycle in Delhi and Agra traffic. Here not using the horn isn’t an option, as it is a declaration of presence on the road, and it is a necessity if you want to stay alive.
Needless to say I have had some close calls, but nothing life threatening. (don’t worry mom) In the past few days however I hit my first rickshaw (not my fault) amongst other things, and this is only going like 40 kms/hour.
In case you ever come to India and decide to try your hand in this, a good piece of advice is not to stop in the event of an accident, even if you’re not at fault. Police just compound the problem and are corrupt, expecting bribes and such, and most things can be solved with a few rupees anyway.
Surprisingly though, even though driving here can be taxing, there are not too many accidents. Everyone on the road are all stressed out and hypersensitive to everyone else, so quick braking and ‘go and let go, live and let live’ philosophy prevails.
It is remarkable that even within the madness there seems to be some sort of order.
Now that the Taj Majal is out of the way (thats as far south as we go), we have returned to Delhi to work on the bike a bit and continue north towards Dharmsala and Manali, nestled high in the foothills of the Himilayas.
Compared to the heat of the southern plains and congested, polluted and thick air of the city, some good mountain air and winding roads will do us some good.