Friday, 15 January 2010

Motorcycle Diaries

[14 June 2010]

I have now left Phaltan and am finally embarking on my motorcycle adventure. The journey started in Vashi, Mumbai, where I received my Yamaha Crux with just 3 km on the speedometer. The speedometer is now reading 1060 km at Mahabaleshwar. Since leaving Mumbai I travelled south along the west coast, saw in the new year at Murud and then headed inland over the mountains, the Western Gahts, to Phaltan. There were many pretty parts on the way, particularly in the Western Gaghts. Travelling up hill was very slow though, since although the motorbike has plenty of power to take me and my luggage, the motor tends to overheat if I go faster than 30 km/hr up hill, and requires a rest every half an hour. I can tell when it gets too hot because it starts losing power, probably because the pisten head gets stiffer in the cylinder and if I use more throttle the egine gives a clattering sound. I hope I have not pitted the pisten head already and that the overheating will sort itself out in another 1000 km when the engine has warn in a bit.

I stayed in Phaltan until the 13th of Janurary  while I rounded things off and met a new volunteer from Germany. The first weekend (i.e Sunday, which was the only day off in the week) I explored the local area and found a winding track up the side of a mountain that I had spotted on Google maps. It was quite a challenge to find because there are so many dead ends near the mountains, so taking the wrong turning usually means you have to go all the way back, as opposed to finding an alternative route. I even had to travel along a river bed for a while because the road and been washed away. But it was worth it for the views and it was fun knowing I couldn't have found the track up the mountain without the GPS. it is inacessible by car and only a few locals seems to use it as a short by motorbike

The next weekend I travelled to a fort 100 km away with the new volunteer on my bike and a four Indian friends on two other bikes. So when it came to leaving Phaltan I had already covered 900 km and was already comfortable on the bike and with the Indian style of driving - which is very similar to the way one might walk. Indian drivers and pedestrians have a tendency to not to look sideways before they change direction. Particularly in the countryside, people are not used to the concept that they might get hit by a fast moving vehicle if they suddenly change direction. It is for this reason that the continuous sounding of car and motorbike horns has become so common and is a practise I am mastering too. It is sometimes quite difficult to know if it is a good time to use the horn, or when using it is only a poor excuse to go faster and rudely push people aside. In India you have extremes of very timid drivers, crawling along at 30 km/hr, and those that seem to be in a hurry to go to hell, usually driving an SUV and overtaking recklessly. I think I probably fall somewhere in the middle, typically doing somewhere between 40-60 km/hr, and I like to think, filtering through junctions with a relaxed but confident speed and power. Another trick is to use your headlights to intimidate oncoming overtaking traffic to let them know that you don't intend to be driven off the road - but of cause, you always have to be prepared for a quick stop in the gutter!

[15 June 2010]

I spent two nights in Mahabaleshwar, exploring the sights during the day and watching the sun set from Bombay Point with the 200 other Indian tourists. I was told about 70% of the tourists at Mahabaleshwar come from Pune. It was actually nice to be able to interact a little with a couple of female Indians, since the Pune people are a little more modern or liberal. In the country you won't get more than a quick glance and smile from women. Not because they are not as interested in seeing a foreigner as the men, but because it is not a done thing to for them to interact with strange men. The Indian men make up for this though, reminding me that I am beautiful, asking what hair products I use (occasionally a bit of soap and plenty of natural grease!) and of course asking for my photo and even sometimes my autograph, because they think I look like someone famous from the movies. I know what you are thinking: he loves the attention!

Today I travelled from Mahabaleshwar, and of course India showed again that it is bigger than it looks! I made it to Ratnagini, about 200 km from Mahaleshwar, and is a busy, but not a very touristy sea side town. The journey only was harder than expected, because I am disappointed to say, the motorbike is not quite coping. It eventually over heats going just 50 km/hr on undulating hills. This ain't good enough because it takes half an hour to cool down a little and I can't be stopping for half and hour every hour or two! Consequently I have had to be creative to make the most of what it can give: using only the smallest amount of throttle and changing up gear as soon as possible to keep the engine revs low and, more recently, I found that doing the dis-advised thing of disengaging the engine on down-hills  (that don't require the breaks) and letting the engine idle for a while, greatly improves things. Free-wheeling down a hill I can often achieve the same speed as if I have the engine engaged and applying a reasonable amount of throttle. It just shows how much energy goes into vibrating the little engine. Even on a genital slope I have found that accelerating slightly and then free-wheeling helps keep the engine temperature down.

On the up side, these techniques will also save me fuel! I shall try and find a Yamaha Showroom when I can, to see if this is normal for a new bike and if it is likely to improve. Perhaps I'll need to invent a water cooling system.

[photo taken somewhere on the Mombai-Goa highway. I had to resist the temptation of explore the pretty region if I was to make any progress today]

Ok, that's all I have time for now. The battle with the bike is only adding to my adventure at the moment and I am in good spirits. I shall get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow and seek out some small country roads. The road here was fine, only if I can't go any faster on it I might as well use slower roads. I am heading for Goa. Of course might not make it in one day if I take back roads as I'll probably get lost!

I am aware that I have not kept the blog up to date with what I have been doing in Phaltan. That is because I was both very busy and was trying to decide what I thought of it all. I want to finish a long report of my what I have done and have been thinking, but until it is done I shall post a short version - maybe tomorrow.

The bed bugs bit again last night. Serves me right for staying in the cheapest places, I guess. Still, I hope they won't bite another night tonight.

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