Sunday, December 31, 2006

Day 4: Dosa Boys New Year

With an engine now looking like soldering iron, nothing but fields for miles around and not a single foreigner in sight it looked like this was not going to be an ordinary New Years Eve.

Nick wanted to push on, and catch up the other teams, but with our engine in the state it was in even he had to concede that we couldn't really go on and when Sunny offered us a place on his floor for the night we really didn't have much choice.

View from the motorbike

Sunny was delighted (see what I done there...?) and the locals were so happy that we had honoured them with our presence in their little town.

Let me just clarify that last sentence. In the West, that sort of statement is said with sarcasm, but in India, things are very different. The locals in this part of India had rarely if ever seen a white face and for us to agree to come back and accept the hospitality of these humble villagers was a great honour to them.

Me and my motorbike pals - the driver kept letting go just to show off!

From the side of National Highway 5, we were able to just about get our engine moving enough to drive through to a little village in the guts of Andhra Pradesh, where we could hear the heart of India beating with pride. I rode for half an hour to the village on the back of Sunny's motorcycle, while the Indians crowded into our rickshaw to see what the White man could do.

Even with a ragged-out engine, Nick represented well and kept up well with the late night traffic as we drove through the night to the mechanics place. He fixed us up and tuned our engine for the next day's drive and all at the cost of 300 rupees. That's less than a full tank of Diesel/Petrol/any other shit we decide to put in for that matter!

Mechanics at midnight

He wouldn't accept a rupee more.

When we got back to Sunny's, we were all absolutely knackered but Ivan was acutely aware that it was New Year's Eve.

I've never given a damn about events in the calendar, so it meant nothing to me, but when Sunny offered us a beer I wasn't about to refuse that.

What happened next truly hunbled me.

I had no idea that Sunny would not be drinking. He took off to the local shops and bought a beer from his own pocket.

When he arrived back he opened it, gave it to us and said "Happy New Year Dosa Boys"

One beer. Between us all.

Suddenly I realised. We were in a tiny house with no real windows and exposed wiring. At least 12 people lived here and some slept the night in the garden and on a chair outside the gate to the house, watching over the rickshaw, while we were on the floor inside. The computer was set up in the garden and the electrics were so bad that Ivan shocked himself when tryin to show our hosts his photos. He had sorted us out with dinner that was so hot it brought tears to my eyes. But that may not have been the only thing.

Sunny could probably ill afford this beer.

He refused to drink any and refused payment.

As Sunny cracked open that beer just before the stroke of midnight , I knew that I would never feel the same again.

Sunny and Me

The Dosa Boys had been truly humbled.

Day 4: Nick's first theory of Jet propulsion

Nick has been tracing the spring of troubles back to a number of sources.

Firstly he suspects that the A1 gas station where we pulled into at lunchtime today was to blame for for our engine meltdown.

At the time we didn't think much of it. We pulled into the gas station for a fill up and they had a water bottle of fuel next to the pumps, presumably that someone had left behind, or not been able to pay for.

Before filling up our tank from the pump, the attendant tipped in what remained in the water bottle and we thought nothing more of it.

But how does this explain what happened yesterday!? Could diesel REALLY have been responsible for making us go so fast!?

Day 4: The Jet Engine Saga part 6 - The mechanic arrives

Sunny has returned from the local town, where he lives, his mate and a mechanic on the back of his bike.

He's been gone a while but, understandably he says that trying to find a mechanic here in the middle of nowhere willing to work on New Years Eve was not an easy task.

The first thing the guy done was to take off our petrol cap of our 4 stroke Bajaj Petrol engine and give a sniff and a lick.


We had diesel in the tank...

Day 4: Maybe we should have gone to Goa

Damn it's dark. We've been here by the side of the NH-5 kicking our heels and wondering what the hell has gone wrong for more than 3 hours. Something has happened and we're really not too sure what.

We've pushed the Rickshaw up the road so that we get some overflow light from a nearby electrical substation that's located next to the road and it's underneath a traffic light, which gives us both light and bugs.

The rice paddies on either side of the road are breeding grounds for mosquitoes who are coming out tonight for an English for starters, followed by Vietnamese for main course and Kiwi for desert. Even with head-to-toe DEET I feel like little more than an hors d'ouevre.

Ivan is cursing the fact that we didn't go to Goa for New Years Eve and as I slap another one of those blood-sucking bastards off my head I can say for the first time that I agree with him.

(note - at this point there is a MASSIVE red bloodstain on my notebook where I squished one of them on my head. He then fell off bloated with my blood and I closed my book on him so the notes are stained in blood as you can see )

Day 4: He's back!

The guy and his mate have returned with a spark plug after nearly an hour. Where the hell are we if the nearest spark plug place is that far away!?

The engine has been running so hot it's still warm now and it's been off since he left. I'm no mechanic but even I can tell that there is some really bad shit going on here.

We've tried this spark plug out and nothing much has happened. When we pull up the honky lever-thing it sort of coughs a bit and refuses to start. We've tried push-starting with all Dosas + local gawking populace on hand.

No luck.

The lead guy, who speaks a little English is called Sunny and he's REALLY nice. Like most Indians he keeps calling us all "Sir" which makes me feel like I'm back at school and I want to give him a little gold star. Especially now that he's gone off on the motorbike again to try to get us some petrol and 2T oil from the garage.

I can't believe that anyone would just stop like this in the middle of the motorway and randomly help out a bunch of strangers like this. What a GEEZER! He's been with us for nearly 2 hours in some form and has driven off twice for stuff. I'm pretty sure he'll be back this time.

I mean with a name like Sunny what's NOT to trust!

Day 4: The Jet Engine Saga part 5 - Complete engine failure on NH-5

I'm writing after dusk by the flashing lights of our hazards.

Our engine has failed for the third time today and we're on the hard shoulder of National Highway 5. I think it's worse than every other time, cos this time a single spark plug change hasn't done the job. The plug has melted again, but it seems that's not the only problem.

We managed to flag down a couple of really friendly Indians, who were driving up the road on a motorbike and they tried to change our spark plug for us with the only spark plug we have left.

We didn't expect the plugs to burn out this quickly so we've only got this one and that doesn't seem to have worked, so the guys have offered to go to the local mechanics and buy another one. We've given them 500 rupees and they've driven their motorbike off into the distance.

We've no idea if they're going to return, and I for one am shitting myself that the zombies will come back...

Day 4: Zombies in the Gas station

Bloody hell that was scary.

We pulled into a gas station in the middle of Andhra Pradesh to fill up.

The forecourt was completely empty save for a few attendants, who came over and filled us up. Nick got out, Ivan got out.

Then they appeared...

I swear to you they came out of nowhere. Suddenly we were surrounded by perhaps 20 Silent Indians, all standing around the rickshaw and staring at us.

They said nothing. They said nothing to us. They said nothing to each other. They just stared.

I was in the rickshaw at the back making the most of the fact that we weren't bouncing around to write up and when I looked up from my page *bang* the rickshaw was totally surrounded on all sides by silent Indian faces.

I hadn't even heard them arrive. They were like zombie ninjas or something.

So I tried to strike up conversation.

"Hiya fellas" I said, "Nice day for staring eh?"


So I pulled out the getaway card.

Ivan's most brilliant contribution to the Dosa Boys in my opinion is what I call the Getaway card, otherwise known as a Dosaboys card. Usually if we're confronted by a beggar or beggars in a funny tin-pot town we pull out our wallet and give them one of these.

While they're wondering what the hell it is and if it's worth anything we step on the gas and get the hell out of there!

This time I gave out a single card in the hope that it would occupy them long enough to carry out our fiendish plan and run away to the highway.

Suddenly, they reacted like zombies hungry for brains and a wall of hands shot into the vehicle. I'm pretty sure I felt all the air rush out of the rickshaw as they came in so fast and suddenly I found it quite difficult to breathe. The lads outside said that they also felt complete clautrophobia too as the mob outside surrounded them staring curiously at their faces from a distance of about 5cm.

It was really unnerving. I hope we don't break down in the night in Andhra Pradesh if that's what it's going to be like...

Day 4: The amazing moving city of Kolkotta part 3

It's been a while since we passed any signs to Kolkotta but one just went by.

Apparently, 1 hour on from the last time and going at 50k Kolkotta is now 1400km away.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

Day 4: Tunes

Christ. Ivan has the worst taste in music I have ever heard from a man.

It's only today that I realise that not bringing my ipod was a mistake. Instead of Guns and Roses and Sweet Soca Music, The Dosa Boys have had to endure ear-searing, brain-numbing 70s disco courtesy of Ivan's Creative Zen.

I couldn't believe he seriously listened to that crap, but on looking through his Creative Zen it became clear that Ivan does consider "I will survive" to be a masterpiece of musical creation.

I knew that travelling in a rickshaw would be rather painful but this really is too much...

Day 4: 3:33PM - 1000km

We've just ticked over 1000km on the odometer. This means that we can now OFFICIALLY go full throttle and kick the shit out of our engine with the compliments of Bajaj!

Also we've just recieved a text from Captain Chaos which seems to indicate that they are at least 200km ahead of us, probably through their nightdriving antics.


Day 4: The amazing moving city of Kolkotta part 2

We're still on the same road heading towards Kolkotta and have just passed a sign that says,

"Kolkotta 1500km"

I give up...

Day 4: The amazing moving city of Kolkotta part 1

Now, more than two hours behind the pack it seems we are seriously on the back foot.

We're not too sure where the other teams are right now, but we do know from the roadsigns that we are 1400km from Kolkotta.

Day 4: 2:55PM - 2nd plug of the day

Crapper. We've broken down again and another plug has melted. What the hell do they make these things out of?! Cheese?!

Day 4: Temples on every tree

The Footprints guide that Nick has in his bag says this about Tamil Nadu:

"About 90 of the 60-million stron Tamil population is Hindu and religious ritual here is lived and breathed: mens's foreheads are given over to great daubs of potash, huge sweeps or fingernail-thin red edges drawn from the hair's centre-parting sideways, and women sprinkle 'kolam' of ground rice powder on the freshly water-packed earth outside their homes in a routine as mundane as brushing their teeth."

We raced through Tamil Nadu and although we saw a lot of things at 40km/h we didn't really get a good look at anything. But Andhra Pradesh had it's own little surprises.

The little stop off at the mechanics was really useful and we got an opportunity to chat to the locals and while the other Dosas sat around chatting in the hut I walked round the back to the fields to check out the chickens and the miserable looking cow (no jokes about my ex-girlfriend please).

While back there, chatting with the kids I noticed the some of the trees were painted with these red and yellow patterns and I had to ask about them. It appears that each Banyan tree is painted as a temple to the gods with some sorts of mythical symbols, I think each one unique to whatever god it is that's being worshipped there. Trying to communicate with the locals wasn't always easy, but it was always rewarding

Later on when I got back to the rickshaw I read the rest of the Tamil Nadu entry, which goes on to say:

"...but nor is worship confined to the feats of architecture that dot Tamil Nadu. Any Banyan Tree you pass will be dangling with cow births; tridents are slammed into the ground to create makeshift mounds of worship; village gods in life-size stucco renderings bare their teeth and brandish knives at every roadside"

And here we were at a roadside with a cow a makeshift mound of worship and a load of village gods.

Rural India is amazing.

Day 4: The Jet Engine Saga part 4 - Spark plug number 1

We've been at the mechanics for more than 2 hours. The other teams are innumerable miles ahead but no-one else has gone by. There will be hell to pay if we want to catch them up. I don't think it's happening, we've texted in to the site to say that we're dead and buried. Looking at this engine I can't see us taking the race.

Our engine has been burning up for some reason, which explains why we've been flying along like a gazelle on crack but we can't figure out what the hell is going on. It's like someone's put Red Bull in the tank.

Now the REALLY fucked-up thing is this...

When the mechanic whipped the spark plug out the back it had melted. I mean ACTUALLY melted. Completely fused together. He tried to revive it by sticking a screwdriver into the gap but it weren't about to come back.

Now I'm no engine expert, but forgive me for thinking that Spark Plugs are designed to survive about 3000 controlled explosions a minute. I'm sure that these things would survive even the heat of being put in front of my bum fire without melting so this new turn may not be a good thing for engine at all.

Day 4: The Jet Engine Saga Part 3 - The shit starts to hit the fan

Well I got a mechanic, there was one close by and like I predicted it was pretty useful.

He confirmed that our engine was DOA. Absolutely screwed. Finished, Kaput. In short we are fucked.

Day 4: Smoking black stuff. Oh crap

Looks like we're about to fall further behind. Thick black smoke is pouring out of the engine.

Nick felt something was wrong (he's quite an experienced motocross driver or something - his uncle taught him to drive and he was like a madass motocross driver so it's in his blood all this driving and winning from what I can tell)

I've taken a look at it (I mean LITERALLY I've looked at it - there's bugger all I can do about it but look) and now I'm just back in the Rickshaw hopin for the best.

All I can tell when I looked was that the piece of rubber that covers the wheel axle on the back wheels to stop dust gettin into the bearings has melted. Shouldn't be a problem, I mean these things are designed to take a bit of heat surely I mean bloody hell it's not like it doesn't get hot down there usually right? Probably just needs a bit of grease.

Think I'll go out and get a mechanic. That could be quite useful.

Day 4: The current standings 11am

We have worked out that we are about 5th in the line behind the Gang of Three that was stayed with last night and the Germans. They must be about 40 minutes ahead I reckon.

Day 4: Sign of the Day

On the back of some lorries (Pics on other CD to be sorted later)

"Please Sound Horn Please"

I just find this endlessly polite for some reason

Day 4: I finally get to drive (100m)

Nick has finally relinquished control of the wheel to me for the first time since we started. I've been fairly alright in the back blogging away but I must admit that I did want a little more.

Somehwere between (Middle of Nowhere) and (slightly on from Middle of Nowhere) I took the helm for my maiden voyage. As I'm not actually a licensed rickshaw driver (or for that matter a licensed driver at all) I thought I'd warm up on a side road before hitting the relatively quiet Highway 5.

First attempt stalled.

Second attempt saw me pull up the clutch a little hard and we bunnyhopped down the streeet. Nick was going mental in the back about this furious that I would fuck the clutch up beyond all recognition. This was a little unfair given that he'd been driving solidly for the last 3 days that he should not even let me have the time to try to get it right.

On the third attempt the clutch started to smell funny. Oh did I mention I failed my driving test three times...?

Anyway Nick insisted on taking back the reins. Bit harsh I thought especially as I had only driven a total of 100m over the whole 4 days.

Nick insisted that we needed our clutch and gearbox if we were to have any chance of winning so I settled back in the back and carried on writing as I always do.

Day 4: Intentions

It seems that we have all come with different intentions for the trip. I guess this is the main problem of going with 2 people I've never met before.

I can tell that Ivan probably doesn't want to race, but I'm a little worried that we won't make it to the end at all. Ivan has a lot more time than me and Nick as he's on holiday til April but I reckon we need to go pretty fast to try to make sure we make it. I've got a flight to catch in Mid-January.

Nick really wants to race this thing and win it and has said so before and he flies in January too.

Personally I don't mind but I think that the car is the star here - I would love to see what this thing is capable of so would love to rag the crap out of it and see what happens.

Day 4: First trouble of the day

Wasn't long on highway 5 before Nick noticed that something was wrong with the steering column.

National Highway 5 is a perfectly flat, almost perfectly straight road not like anything you'd expect in India but even in the back it felt like a gravel pit. Nick said the steering was really unresponsive so we dropped into this town somewhere in Lower Andhra Pradesh for a steering column refix by this random Indian geezer in "the garage under the palm tree"

It was a pretty simple simple job, as I presume all rickshaw jobs are. Basically he got a hammer and scredriver out and hit it a couple of times. No pissin' about there then.

Deciding that this was all a little too easy for our man we decided to knock ourselves out and get the oil changed too. Why not eh. Seemed like a pretty good idea.

While we were waiting the police turned up, looked a little confused and asked us to move on. Bit weird. We tried to explain that we were a little busy having our oil changed but they wouldn't listen (well alright they didn't have a clue what we were saying) so the dude hurried the hell up and we were on our way.

The road feels a lot smoother now (by rickshaw standards)

Day 4: Madras (Chennai) to somewhere deep in Andhra Pradesh

We agreed to set off at 6:30am with the 3 other teams staying at our the Comfort Inn with us that night, Punkah Pelham (who we have nicknamed "The French" cos of the pimping of their ride), Blunderbuss and the Yanks, who I think are called Shanti Express.

After a quick fill up in Chennai we headed out of still-sleeping Madras which, even with most of the population asleep, still has more mental roads than rush-hour London.

As the city was coming to life, we took a left and headed up National Highway 5 towards Kolkotta. A nice straight road of tarmac, flat as my arse is no doubt going to be in a few days time.

Day 4: Happy new year from somewhere in Andhra Pradesh!

Everywhere we went today the locals were preparing for New Years Eve by doing these really cool drawings on the floor with natural coloured sands, which in a few days will be nothing more than memories. There's something quite romantic about this type of temporary art installation, which illustrates the fragility of this thing we call "time", the beauty of the exact instant being so brittle and instantaneous, subject to the winds of change.

I can't help but think that the rickshaw run is like that. It's a gathering of lunatics from around the world who get together, share an aim for a while then disperse to wherever the wind takes them afterwards.

That's enough philosophizing from me though.

Happy New Year from The Dosa Boys!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Day 3: First taste of the city - Chennai (Madras)

Parked in the Comfort Inn, Madras
We pulled into Madras tonight and got a real shock. After the relative quiet of the roads leading here, we were now surrounded almost exclusively by blind drivers, who don't use their mirrors or give way at all.

It's cramped, it's smoggy and it's mayhem. Traffic moves at wildly different speeds, the buses thundering through tiny gaps between slothlike bikes interspersed with pedestrians who have so little concern for their own survival they just cross without looking, leaving it to the will of fate and trusting in the divine powers to get them to the other side.

The city fromt he roof of the rickshaw

Everywhere you look, you see accelerations to make your head spin, drivers pulling these maneuvres that make you sick just watching and I've nearly lost my head to a good few flying engined-guilotines as I've looked looked out the side.

I think Nick had a real challenge takin this all in and at one point in the evening we had to stop and chill by the roadside just to get our bearings back. All our heads were spinning from the kaleidoscope effect of Madras traffic so we stopped, popped into a bakers to refuel and Ivan went out and bought a new floral wreath to replace our floral pimping, before we braved the road to the Comfort Inn to turn in for a well-deserved rest.

Day 3 - The Jet Fuel saga part 2 - a rickshaw record?

So we're bombin it down the road. We had not yet done 1000km so our speedo should have been nudging 40km/h when Nick says

"I think you should see this lads"

With the wind blowing through the ride like a cyclone and the acceleration gluing me to my seat it was a struggle to peel myself off and peer over his shoulder.

The rickshaw was doing 80 kays and the needle was knocking the end of the dial.

What the hell is going on!?!

Day 3 - The Jet Fuel saga part 1

After running out of fuel chasing the Pack of Three (The Yanks, Blundebuss and Punkah Pelham) as detailed in the last post, we stopped and got fixed up by a roadside mechanic in his tiny little straw-roofed workshop.

The fella came out to the roadside and, seeing that our tank was out he switched us onto the reserve tank and drove the ride round to his workshop, where he filled the tank up.

Then he looked up and down the engine, tightened some things and sent us on our way, now a couple of hours behind the Pack of Three.

For some reason though, after this little tune-up our ride was behaving quite strangely.

At one point, we got overtaken by a sports car. Nick, not thinking, hit the Rickshaw into full throttle and we roared after the car, the acceleration clear knockin the wind out of me.

As we shot past the guy's right side you could see him look, double take, rub his eyes and look again. He couldn't believe he'd been done by a rickshaw!

Day 3 - Dharmapuri to Chennai - Dosas get done in Dharmapuri

After the hell of potholes and psychotic night-time bus gauntlets last night I have to confess that the 300 odd kilometres of relatively flat highway today was a relief on my absolutely knackered behind. Every time I get up these days for a walk I feel like my arse has been to a particularly vicious sado-masochistic whipfest where the nice lady gets a little carried away and gets out the planks of wood.

Ooooops did I say that out loud...?

Turns out that last nights gamble to race it to Dharmapuri paid off. Initially I had to talk the lads into it and we nearly fell out but this morning it turned out that 4 of the teams had made that effort.

And hell there are some HARDCORE teams out there!

We set off at sunrise, Ivan at the helm and, stopping at a disused oil station who do we see...The Calamity Crew sleepin in a tent on the disused station forecourt.

Nick and the DosaMobile

Friggin heck they're hardcore! respect!

A while later 4 other teams caught up and we found ourselves in convoy up the 46 but we got seperated somewhere on the highway after we all stopped for petrol.

We filled up together and chatted to the attendents, the teams setting off one by one up the highway. As we went to catch them up about 40km down the road we broke down.

Nick - "What the hell is goin on?"

Ivan - "No idea - it's just not going anywhere"

The locals were brilliant and rushed to our aid like pit stop attendents but ya know, a bit slower and with a little less idea what we were saying. Our Tamil is not exactly great.

Turns out that the bastards at the station charged us for a full tank of 8 litres at about 350 rupees and, while we were busy chatting they were busy not filling our tanks and pocketing our cash!

So one breakdown later, we're being driven around on the reserve tank by the Michael Schumacher of rickshaws for a fix-up in some armpit of an Indian village and having a late breakfast of bananas and water.

now we're in Chennai chillin with 3 other teams in the Comfort Inn. Last stop before the marathon run of highway number 5 on the East coast.

Day 3: Sign of the day

Seen printed in big letters across the front of a lorry windscreen.


Imagine seeing that just as you meet your maker courtesy of one of those badboys on the crazy Indian roads!

Gotta love this poster in Dharmapuri with a conveniently placed electricity pilon too that gives this woman a Salvador Dali mustache and beard set!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Day 2: To be sorted crash in the mountains

After the hair-raising night drive me and Ivan got to an internet cafe to find that To be sorted have had a crash in the mountains, taken out by a bus.

The fact that they're still in one piece to blog it is definitely a good sign. Having seen the way that those buses drive I wouldn't be too surprised if we have a hairy incident with one of them. They are bloody psychotic.

Day 2 - A dice with death in the night

We got to Salem much faster than expected at about 2:30, and there was still daylight. With the usual lack of planning opinion was split and Nick wanted to keep going east to Pondicherry, Ivan wanted to stay where we were.

I opted to push on, figuring that if the other lads got here earlier than us they would take a significant lead of about about 80km in Dharmapuri. I argued the case and the guys begrudgingly pushed on. I argued that we were in a race and that the scenic route wasn't gonna get us to the finish any faster. Ivan looked through the Rough Guide and Dharmapuri wasn't in it but I goaded them both on and said that surely we were well enough travelled to be able to handle a fleapit for a night. There was no way I wanted to lose the others and travel the whole thing on our own.

As the road rapidly turned from tarmac to gravel I started to seriously regret my decision and after a while the sun dropped out of the sky.

Dusk was nightmarish. It seems that on Indian roads, to save a bit of money, vehicles don't bother to use their lights until it's REALLY dark and they need to use them to see. None of that "using your lights for visibility" rubbish out here!

The psychotic buses, already something that got my hairs up in the daytime, actually got faster at night, maneuvering like motorbikes, except that now you couldn't see them until they were right up your arse. Already having looked one of these in the eye we were now forced to drive just inches away from them in pitch blackness. And to make things worse the road was starting to look like the acne-ridden face of a McDonalds employee.

After one close shave too many, The Dosas parked up on the side of the road next to an electricity substation and waited for dusk to pass into night. With night now on us we were brickin it about carryin on and I went into the substation and tried to blag some space on the floor. The fella wasn't havin any of that and unlike Calamity Crew we hadn't brought any camping gear.

Mosquitoes all over our faces we had to make a decision on whether to stay there and sleep in the rickshaw or chance it on the road of death.

India at night gets bloody cold so when we started shivering we realised that we couldn't really hang around. Me and Ivan took up posts as wingmen, checking out the back for oncoming and advancing traffic. The windscreen was dusty and the oncoming light just diffused all over the windscreen so you couldn't see anything at all so Nick was driving blind.

Finally we pulled into Dharmapuri, exhausted with our nerves frazzled, found some food and the web and hit the hay.