I am going to mix up the updates on my blog and jump right ahead to the present (whoooa! look at me skip 4 months of blogs!) The next post will still be about Jakarta but in the meantime I want to talk about my experience of India as I approach it for round two.
I admit it. India got on top of me. I went in there with plans and expectations, aspirations and high hopes. Incredible India laughed at me and my sense of rationality and wanderlust then spat me out. India for me was to be the triumphant halfway point of the trip. I planned on easy availability of parts for my bike, mechanics who I could afford to employ to fill the gaps in my mechanical knowledge, cheap food and cheaper beer - a motorcyclists dream.
I flew into Chennai after an amazing month with new friends in Kuala Lumpur. Arriving into Chennai, customs kicked me up the security chain of command 3 times to superior officers due to what I think was my lack of exit plane ticket (and my Pakistan visa). This was my first run in with Indian bureaucracy. Two hours later I was released onto the street from a small room with two utilitarian chairs and a table to match, and no explanation.
Several days later my bike arrived in port and I attempted to get my bike out with an agent. As a big fan of doing things myself, I was determined not employ someone else to do a job I should be able to do for myself. After being turned away from most customs offices for my lack of agent (I later learned a shipping agent is better skilled in the art of greasing palms), I bit the bullet and engaged a shipping agent, who luckily for me also had a love of old Enfields. This was perfect, a fellow biker and Enfield enthusiast; just the kind of guy I needed on my side to get my bike pulled from the sea of red tape of the Chennai port.
7 weeks later… I still did not have my bike, my agent had almost tripled his initial and agreed quote while holding my passport ransom for additional fees. The media, the Australian Embassy, friends in high places and friends in low places were all involved in the process by now.
I am not a man of petty revenge but every second day or so when I went to the agents office only to be told that he would be further trying to extort cash from me, all I could think how amazing it would be to drop a litre to two of bleach into the oil reservoir of his vintage Enfield parked out the front. The only reason that I never enacted such a plan was that even a full engine rebuild in Chennai would only set him back about 10th of what he was charging me to remove bike the shipping warehouse, plus more importantly, I love old bikes.
Because of the time I spent meeting the challenge of extracting my bike from the port and my passport and carnet from a fellow bike owner, my Pakistan visa has expired, my Iranian visa has expired and I had to fly back to Australia to sort out these issues.
Chennai was tough, but that said, because of my time in Chennai I got to meet and hangout with some really interesting people, cafe owners, hoteliers, farmers and finance gurus. That would continue to be a theme of my first trip in India - meet amazing people then have plans invariably go sideways due to red tape and the corruption of a few people. People keep telling me I just didn't understand India - and if I was to try and understand I would be missing the point. They are right. I have no clue what I am doing.
This was illustrated on one of my last nights in Bombay when I decided I wanted to read my book and drink a beer in a local cafe. A short google and stroll later I arrived at "cafe hind". I pushed the door open and strolled down the stairs to the basement. I noted that the elaborate neon lighting might make reading a bit tricky but what of it? Walking across the room, I took a corner table and started reading after ordering an overpriced beer ($4 for a late beer - what is this madness!). I was the only one in the bar apart from a couple of girls huddled near the centre. I looked at them, they looked at me. Yep. I had brought a book to read in an Indian gentleman's club. By the time I had finished my beer the room was filled with men staring at the girls with a few of them drinking red bull out of brandy gallons (that’s a thing apparently). Once again, I had done my research, made a plan, enacted it and then was blindsided by a cultural misunderstanding.
Ah... Incredible India.
I am about to fly back to Bombay where I will pick up my bike and continue on this adventure. This time it will be with no expectations, few plans and a slightly tamed sense of wanderlust.