Day 4 of the Rally
Start: Hotel Jewel Rock, Shimoga (Karnataka)
Finish: Kalasa, Silent Valley Resorts
Distance: 180 km.If there was an awards programme for the world’s best rides this day would be right up there. It’s so good it’s almost too much for the mind to take in. We spent years finalising this day’s riding and it shows. You will bike up and down roads that haven’t been used by traffic for decades – at some stages we have to send a chainsaw gang in before we tackle it, as nature has taken its hold so firmly. Cautious and progressive are the terms appropriate on these stages, as the scenery is awesome but the road conditions changeable. We finish this tough day with the sun setting behind us as we chase shadows all the way to the beautiful resort of Silent Valley near the famous elephant area of Kudremukh National Park.From the EnduroIndia Road book
That morning, I stood in the school playground (our overnight parking space next to the Jewel Rock Hotel) watching an iconic motorcycling moment. Enfield motorcycles, dozens of them, parked side-by-side were slowly toppling over like dominoes, one after the other, all down the line. I stood fascinated and appalled. Bang-bang-bang-bang-bang… Over they went. It was magnificent. People were running forward to catch the falling bikes. School kids gaped. Bang-bang-bang screamed the metal. (Over went Larry’s bike. Over went Suzanne’s) Bang-bang-bang... Right down the line!
Before now I’d only ever seen this moment in Hollywood movies. There is no doubt, it is a great American moment. On film, it always takes place outside a run-down biker bar somewhere in the emptiness of the California desert. The testosterone-fuelled iconography of bikes and bikers in America powers up the event and gives it a ball-breaking significance. So, to relieve the tension, the whole cinema screams with laughter as bikers with their bulging, wobbly bellies race out of the bar to face a tangled mess of gleaming chrome. This, we are invited to conclude, symbolises “the brittleness of American individualism and offers a sly poke at the Hollywood version of heroic manhood.” (Three cheers for the Governor of California!)
But the laws of physics are universal. The symbolism is very American but the power that inhabits it belongs everywhere. In India, the male ego is hotter, not quite so muscle-bound or unemotional. It’s more social, less consumerist; much less individualistic, but probably just as brittle. Indian bikes are less sexualised (not half!), less iconographic. They have less potency. And yet, the effect of seeing them dominoing over like that conjours up the same images and feelings.
I guess I should apologise here for enjoying this moment so much. I feel I should explain that, of course I was also horrified when I saw what was happening. I thought immediately of all the damage that was being done and how it could screw up the day. It’s true: I did. But there's no point in me trying to excuse myself. Seeing the bikes toppling over was a visceral moment: a moment I savoured and will remember. Hash and I, heavily disguised
Hearing the regular sound of crashing metal sent my mind back to England and made me think of The DB. The DB gets his rocks off driving in Demolition Derbies. He is a youngster (in his early 20s) who calls in at my place whenever he is in trouble and needs a hand. Getting into trouble is a speciality of his. In a moment of exasperation and deeply felt irony Di and I nicknamed him 'The Dear Boy', 'The DB' for short. We also came to refer to the regulator on our household heating system as ‘The DB’- because it is equally unreliable and anarchic.
Why did I think of him just then? Why did the crashing bikes have me jigging about in an ecstacy of manic glee? Is it some perverse element in my nature? I’ve no idea (my reaction surprised me too) but I think the answer has something to do with the sheer physicality of the moment. (Surely, anyone who has felt exhilarated knocking down a brick wall with a large sledge hammer will understand.) And because I am always aware of the danger of dropping my bike, seeing the Enfields going over like that is perhaps a release from the tedium of keeping things under control. It’s the anarchic principle that makes us joy in our release from rationality. In a funny way it’s the same impulse that makes me want to ride a bike in the first place. And it’s why The DB goes nuts driving in Demolition Derbies.
It might also have something to do with the fact that none of these bikes belong to me.
It was going to be a long day today and we were making an early start. We were up at… (No, it’s even too painful to think about it). We were up early. The EnduroIndia Crew were saying that it would take the dawdlers up to twelve hours to complete the journey, which I guess meant me. Good! I thought, bullishly. Bloody good! A nice long day on the bike! And, of course, I now had my cushion to soothe the hot, tearing sensations I was developing in my glutes. All I needed was some gaffer tape to fix it on with. I started shouting out for some. It turned out that half the rally was carrying gaffer tape in their tank bags.
My bike started on the second kick and sounded as sweet as a nut. Whatever had gone wrong with it yesterday was fixed. The mechanics are amazing guys. They go to bed at about eight or nine o’clock every evening. They sleep till three the next morning. Then up they get and work though the rest of the night checking the bikes and putting them into first-class running order for the next day. And of course, it doesn’t stop there. All through the day they run up and down the route doing quick mechanical repairs by the roadside, or sometimes getting bikes trucked on to the next hotel stop. When they are not doing that, they are giving advice to the riders on how to get the best out of the Enfields. These guys are so focussed. They are Indian - all of them. They come on board for three weeks every year and then disappear back to their homes and regular work. What a crew!Wherever you go you can rely on one of these guys being around if you need help.
During the morning briefing, Simon told us his crocodile story. It was a long Simon story, but the gist of it went like this. Some years ago, he and the team were out in India researching the route. One day theyfound themselves staying close to one of India’s many dams. When they asked some locals if it was all right to swim in the water they were told, yes, of course. They spend a lazy afternoon horsing around in the reservoir at the base of the dam. The next morning a group of engineers overheard them talking about it. The engineers were horrified. They said that the reservoir was choc-a-block with crocodiles. Whoops!
The moral of this tale is apparently: never trust an Indian to tell you the truth. He will always tell you what he thinks you want to hear. It would be shameful to disappoint you. It’s a matter of politeness, not of bad faith or malice. I couldn’t help thinking that in some obscure way this habit of mind might help to explain the way Indians drive.
The ‘Dick of the Day’ award was particularly sweet this morning. It was won by some guy I hadn’t met before. It seems that he had seen a group of monkeys up a tree and started shying stones at them. What he didn’t realise was that these were baby monkeys. And mummy monkey was sitting in the branches directly above him. Mummy monkey wasn’t having any of this, so she used the only weapon she had at her disposal. She opened her bowels and dumped one on him. She was apparently a very good shot. (I think mummy monkey had a great sense of irony.)
We revved up the bikes. Not one of the Enfields was significantly damaged by having fallen over. Minor repairs were completed there and then in a couple of minutes. The old Enfield slogan is dead true. These great little machines are ‘Built Like a Gun’ - tough as nails and as easy to repair as rolling off a cliff. (Sh1t, did I say that!) On Two Wheels
magazine recently ran a feature listing the 50 best adventures on a bike. EnduroIndia came out at Number Nine. (EnduoHimalaya from the same stable - also run on Bullets - came tops at Number One.) But the feature writer also described the Enfield as a ‘sh1t bike’. So shame on him! Guys like that have one-dimensional minds. Their testosterone must be chemically engineered in Japan.
We left the bike park/playground that morning to the sound of cheering schoolkids. Several of them were holding blue balloons given them by the rep from The Rainbow Trust, one of the charities that the rally sponsors. The team usually offer a pillion ride to one or two of the charity staff every year. Their job is to keep us all focussed on the fundraising aspect of the rally and to provide publicity shots for it.
Hash, Larry and I stopped off at a garage in the middle of Shimoga to fuel up. It was a modern looking garage with a large canopy and forecourt. It stood in stark contrast to an ancient temple on the other side of the road. The temple was being repaired. Workmen were erecting a forest of lashed wood scaffolding around it. This kind of ‘primitive’ scaffolding was in use in the West right up to the early decades of the 20th century. My dad, a painter and decorator, remembered seeing his father erecting it. The garage and the temple scaffolding created a strange contrast of old and new, typical of urban India. But they also made me think how young our modern technological world actually is, and how little time countries like India need to catch up once their economies begin to take off.
Whenever the three of us rode together I usually went out in front and did the navigating. Larry and Hash had been complimenting me lavishly on how well I was managing to work out directions from the route map while negotiating the traffic. That was putting me under pressure to perform. Was it a genuine compliment or a clever ruse to get me to do all the work? Or a bit of both? Whatever it was, I’d taken the bait.
Since Di died my brains have turned to mush and my memory has all but disintegrated. Things I would hardly have had to think about a couple of years ago I now have to struggle with. These days, performing simple mental acts is sometimes like wading through treacle. I know why it is happening but it still makes me feel foolish. I’m told it could take a couple of years before my nervous system readjusts and I get back to normal. So here in India, finding a mental exercise I could perform well, even as small a thing as this, was a boost to my self-esteem, and gave an extra fillip to the trip.
Once we were clear of the town, we found ourselves on country roads. running over level ground but heading straight for the mountains. These narrow roads (great riding) ran through tiny villages, between cultivated fields and through large areas of scrubland. We passed extensive rice paddies and rubber plantations, both staple crops here in Karnataka. I had no idea before someone pointed them out to me that rubber trees were a kind of palm. And I had no idea that palm trees came in so many different varieties or produced so many different kinds of fruit. The rubber plantations here are easy to spot because the tree trunks are always painted white. Paddy fields with young rice pushing up above the surface of the water. The trees in the background are a rubber plantation
Thirty kilometres from Shimoga, just past the village of Shankaraghatta we came upon the Bhadra Dam. Beside the dam a huge earthwork embankment held back the accumulated waters of the river. Dams are a big issue in India. Since independence in 1947 the Indian government have embarked on a vast programme of dam building. 2,600 have been constructed in that time. They are a very controversial part of the country’s economic strategy.
Many say that the costs have far outweighed the benefits. Huge populations, sometimes numbering tens of thousands, have been made homeless by these projects and the promised government compensation has often not been forthcoming. This has led to a huge increase in dispossessed or refugee populations. Uprooted from the lands which gave them their traditional source of income they try to make their living any way they can, or die in the process. Thousands have been pauperised in this way; many are reduced to wading knee-deep through fermenting rubbish tips, collecting and selling recycled garbage. It is a huge national scandal.
The dams have succeeded principally in shifting wealth upwards. Whereas local populations were formerly independent and managed their own irrigation systems (no-matter how primitive), they are now dependent for their water supply on large corporations which often charge high fees for it. There is much anger and social unrest about this.
Near the dam, we passed a group of kids on their way to school. A perfect opportunity to distribute some more pens. (I’d learned my lesson from the day before and organised my tank bag a bit better). And I’d perfected the art of making sure that the little ones got something too. After ‘giving’ some of the pens to the larger kids, I’d hold my nose as though I were diving into water and duck down into the middle of the scrum. Then I’d push my way to the edge where the little ones were. I had to be quick about it, because these kids are like greased lightning. They all thought it was funny and fell about laughing. There were some adult women there too, walking between the villages, who seemed to enjoy the scramble and much as the kids. We sat and talked to them for a while until one of the team turned up and attempted to hurry us along. We’d stopped off several times on the road that morning to talk to people and take photographs. It looked like we had gravitated to the back already. Yes, it was definitely going to be a long day.
Not long after leaving Bhadra we found ourselves leaving the flat plateau lands and rapidly mounting up the lower slopes of the Western Ghats. Right along their entire length, the mountain chain rises suddenly and dramatically from the plain and sweeps upwards in a series of steps (‘Ghat’ means step). The narrow roads became rough and potholed, but at first not so bad that we couldn’t still chuck the bikes around at a decent speed. This section was a lot of fun. But, the higher we rode, the rougher the road became, until at last it gave up any pretence to a metalled (paved) surface and took on the natural deep-red colour of the rock.
From then on the surface became very variable, now solid, now inches thick with dust, now strewn with boulders and stones, and now covered with short stretches of rough tarmac. The road cut its way along the winding contours of the densely wooded hillsides, careered crazily down and up the narrow river valleys then burst suddenly into open moorland, giving wide panoramas of the rolling foothills below us. Sunlight beat down on heads and arms from a hot and empty sky, or filtered gently through thick-tangled leaves and branches. I felt oh-so-relaxed. And happy. I'd guess that whoever wrote the route plan felt much the same, because after a while he got fed up with recording landmarks and side turnings. ‘Follow road over mountain,’ the plan said suddenly, and left it at that.
On one sharp rubbley corner I temporarily lost control of the bike and nearly went over the edge. I slid through several yards of dusty road surface and came to a halt, upright but with only half-an-inch between my front tyre and a sheer drop over the side of the mountain. Oooops! I was a bit shaken up by that – I sat there for some long seconds staring over the edge - but my adrenalin was high and I was having too much fun to let it take over my mood.
If I’m honest, I think by that time I was feeling slightly manic – a combination of anxiety and excitement coupled with a madcap desire to barge my way through any challenge this trip could throw at me. When the others asked me how I was, I think I just laughed it off. Hash was doing well, but Larry was anxious, picking his way cautiously through all the stones and sand or riding along the very edge of the path where the ground was clearer and firmer.
Four or five kilometres further on, I came to another interesting halt on a gravely patch of tarmac road overlooking the bare hillside. Alex was standing nearby with Ali and some of the crew. He saw me, winced and, with an apology for poking his nose in, offered me some advice on riding over rough terrain. He needn’t have worried. As I’d never ridden off-road before, the advice was very welcome. And once I’d started to put it into practice it boosted my confidence 1000%. And from then on, dirt riding became a hell of a lot more fun. Thanks Alex! I was learning so much on this trip! Ali (with camera, of course) and Alex
But the scenery here was breathtaking. Sod the back markers, I thought, I’m going for a walk. I had been dying to stretch my legs in the mountains since the day we got here. So I hung up my lid and gloves for a while and went bounding off over the grassy hillsides. I wanted to be off the road, just for a bit, and surround myself with all this breezy, silent space. I wanted to feel the force of gravity hitting my feet and not just my bum. I wanted to feel that ultimate freedom that only comes when I’m alone among powerful, wide open landscapes. I felt so exhilarated I started somersaulting and jumping around the hillside like a nutter. I learned afterwards that Ali was taking shots of me before I disappeared over a ridge for ten minutes for a bit of private time - just me and the mountains.
I didn’t get the hang of Alex’s advice immediately. For the next five kilometres we rode along a very twisty, very dusty and stony track that snaked about along the edge of the hills. To the right of the track, there was a steep and very visible drop, and at that moment, it was proving to be a bit of a problem. Just occasionally – a couple of times a year - I get a mild attack of vertigo. This happened to be one of those occasions. If I were mountain scrambling (on foot) I’d just sit for ten minutes until it passed off. Here on the rally, still feeling slightly manic, and with Justin behind me urging us tail enders to get a move on, I tried to ride through it. It probably wasn’t a good idea. The vertigo made me feel very self-conscious. My arms went rigid and I started target fixating like mad on every bend. I was handling the bike like a total squid and feeling more and more self-conscious about it. And the more self-conscious I got, the more I target-fixated and the more erratically I rode. Several times I slid rather too close to the edge for comfort. It was a pretty hair-raising and heart-pounding ten minutes.
As the vertigo passed off and I calmed down, I made a mental note to recognise this situation in future and not to act like such a wally. Trouble is, even while I’m sweating on the surface, something deep inside me gets a hell of a kick out of situations like this. In my daily life, I regard myself as a fairly cautious person. But sometimes (fairly often, actually) something other than my rational mind just takes over and I like to push myself to the very edge. And the feeling often comes over me in wild, open country, just like this. There is something about mountains that does peculiarly anarchic things to my psyche. And I cannot honestly say I would want it to stop.
But I got to be so self-conscious about my riding on this section and so embarrassed about it that I felt the overpowering need to make one of those incredibly lame apologies to Justin who was riding right behind me. I stopped the bike on a swerve. He drew up beside me and I went into a long explanation about vertigo and stuff and then felt like even more of an idiot for doing so. He just nodded. And then, of course, having stopped the bike, I couldn’t get it started again. I’d got the hang of the kick start but once in a while I would have problems finding true neutral. Justin came to the rescue by pointing out the Bullet's neutral finder.
Well, you know, I knew about the neutral finder, but I’d never used it for some reason. It’s an odd feature of this machine. It’s a little button on top of the gear box casing. You stomp on it hard and wherever state the gear box is in at that moment, it slips directly into neutral. Or, if it doesn’t, you roll the bike on a few inches and try again. More revelations!
The land ahead was owned by a series of private estates. We started to pass the signs, ‘Waterfall Estates,’ ‘Doopadigiri Estate,’ ‘Chamund Eswari Estate.’ But before we saw the signs we smelled the coffee. This is a huge coffee growing area. It extends for thousands of acres over the hillsides. At first I kept looking out for signs of neatly laid-out and well-cultivated fields. But I saw none. That’s because there aren’t any. Here in Karnataka the coffee plants are left to grow haphazardly among the trees. I was well in among them before I realised where the smell was coming from. It was overpowering.
Still riding through the estates we came upon some newly laid road surface, and then upon the guys who were laying it. Indian roads are like that; the surface can change from good to appalling, from new to old, and back again several times in the space of a few kilometres. It can change at any time and anywhere. It can change suddenly on a major highway. And craziest of all, it can change from tarmac to soft sand half way round a blind corner. You need eyes on stalks.
I checked the route plan and took a 300 degree turn down a steeply sloping track and suddenly I was back into the red dust, thicker than ever. If it weren’t for the trees, I could have been on Mars. And there was a hairpin, or something like it, every couple of hundred yards.
Somewhere along the line I had got separated from the other guys: Hash, Larry, Justin, all the regulars who floated about at the back of the column. I was on my own. The sun was beating down fiercely through the branches overhead. It was turning into the hottest afternoon of the trip so far. I stopped several times and listened, there was absolute silence. There was no sound even of birdsong. And there was certainly no sound of a petrol engine anywhere. Had I taken the right turning? I kept looking at the route plan. I wasn’t sure. And I had severe doubts whether the Bullet would ever make its way back up this track.
The track went on and on, snaking down the hillside at a crazy angle. And the dust got thicker. It was the most testing bit of the rally so far. Once, I heard an Indian voice calling and echoing eerily through the trees. So there was life on Mars after all! It was an extraordinary place. The bare scrub on either side looked dead or exhausted. I stopped and checked the route map again. I still wasn’t sure. But at that moment the sound of a Bullet came rumbling towards me. It came from above. I waited for the bike to pass me. It was John, unfortunately wanting to know if we were going in the right direction. So that didn’t help much. I let him go ahead.
Further downhill there were more signs of life. An irrigation system had been set up and water was pouring over the track, turning the dust, not into mud, but into an oily slick. My tyres slithered here and there as the track continued to bear downhill at about 35 degrees.
Beyond the slick the track turned to heavy rubble and eventually began to level out, gradually allowing my adrenalin levels to level out as well. I turned a corner and there was a concrete bridge over a stream. I recognised this bridge. I’d seen it on the film the EnduroIndia Crew had made of last year’s rally. So I’d been on the right road after all. Then I saw one of the mechanics bathing naked in the stream.
This must have been the road that the crew were so proud of. I'd heard Simon tell the story several times. It was another of their finds, another road that hadn’t been used by motorised traffic in decades. And they had built the bridge themselves. Several years ago floods had washed the old one away, and the first time they had come down this track on the Enfields they had to drag the bikes over the river and over fallen tree trunks. The owners of the estate had not been best pleased at first, but changed their mind when the crew offered to rebuild the bridge.
While I was hanging around, Larry came slowly and gingerly down the rubble track and pulled up beside me. Hash, apparently, had had a tumble. He was OK. He’d sprained his arm and was unable to ride. An ambulance had picked him up and was following on behind. I thought about that, and decided that I’d rather come down this road on an Enfield than in a vehicle like an ambulance. Y’know, the track isn’t all that wide. At least, if I had an emergency, I could jump off a bike. About ten minutes later he arrived, sitting in the passenger seat, grinning but just a bit fed up that he might not be able to ride for a couple of days.
Larry and I hung around the bridge for about half-an-hour. It was a great spot just to relax and enjoy the surroundings after all that concentrated riding. I went and cooled off in the water. Larry went to investigate the coffee bushes with the enthusiasm of a junkie who had just sighted a fix.
Both of us were surprised to see so many Enduros still coming up behind us, and even more surprised to see a couple of huge trucks come trundling over the bridge and then go bouncing on up the dirt road we had just come down. While we were hanging around I took the opportunity to snap up dozens of photographs. But most of them didn’t come out: they all had camera shake on them. I guess all that adrenalin had to show itself somehow. Larry inspecting coffee beans
Beyond the bridge the track improved by several hundred percent. Gradually it began to acquire a firm surface once again. The geography changed too. It became a lot gentler. We were now travelling through a high rolling landscape, still forested, but more domestic, more humanised. And the day became more beautiful as we rode on.
We still had about 70 kilometres to go and for most of that time Larry and I rode together. The road rolled up and down through the quiet of the forest. Here and there, there were isolated houses or small villages. We could have been a thousand miles from the nearest town or big city. Whenever we passed through some small community tucked away in a woodland clearing, people would stand outside their houses and wave at us. When we stopped to ask the way, people would quiz us excitedly. And we had to stop often; forest tracks forked off the route everywhere and for long stretches we were unsure whether we had taken the right road.
At one of these map-reading stops, three young blokes gathered round and asked us questions about ourselves and the rally. It turned out that they were coffee workers and they were keen to show us where they worked. One of them ran back to his house to get his keys and then unlocked an iron gate beside the road. They ushered us into a large, brick-paved compound strewn with raked coffee beans drying in the sun. The smell was amazing. Larry questioned them in detail about their work and listened with the rapt attention of an enthusiast and connoisseur.
The forest just rolled on and on, but the landscape immediately to our right and left varied constantly. Thick woodland, crowding up against the road on either side alternated with isolated patches of open cultivated fields. Sometimes the deciduous woodland which dominated everything looked managed (it could almost have been English Forestry Commission land) at other times it was wild and overgrown. Occasionally we came across terraced fields. You see these all over Southern India. They are carefully maintained and very beautiful to look at. Wherever we rode in these woods our mood was dominated by a huge silence. I could sense it even above the roar of the engines, and it hit me like something physical the moment I stopped and took off my lid. It was a wonderful, peaceful and idyllic part of the trip. We rode slowly and were totally chilled.
That mood came to an abrupt, if temporary, end when the road widened out at last. It didn’t have a very good surface. In fact, I’ve never seen anything like it. This wasn’t a pot-holed road; it was a stretch of potholes occasionally lined with fragments of road. They weren’t potholes either but lunar craters; you could lose a couple of footballs in some of them. Alex’s advice never came in handier: forget about trying to ride round the holes, he had said, stand up, lean back, get your weight over the rear wheel and accelerate. I did. And tell you what! Did I have fun! And I reckon the Enfield had as much fun as I did. It just lapped it up. For a road bike, it tackles rough terrain brilliantly. ‘A sh1t bike’, my arse! I’d like to see the reviewers from On Two Wheels
magazine ride this kind of road on a Gixxer or an R1. Several items only loosely attached to my bike, like my spare water bottle and a couple of bananas went flying, and I suspect that the mechanics would probably have a fair bit of tightening up to do tonight. But what a ride! Several kilometres of sheer fun!
Beyond the potholes we passed a road barrier that marked the entry to the Mutthodi sanctuary, a beautiful woodland nature reserve. The road coiled lazily up and down among the low trees. The sun slanted pleasantly through the branches and the day was now entering that dreamy state of late afternoon loveliness. I’m always reminded of my childhood on afternoons like this wandering through the woods. I was finding it difficult to imagine myself in India.Ballehonur
Twelve kilometres of idyllic riding later we came into the village of Ballehonur and stopped off for a drink. About two dozen Enduros were lazing around under the shelter of shop awnings or talking to the local people. Several of them were recommending a local restaurant. We had a quick discussion about it, but Larry was now eager to get to our destination and we decided to press on.
Before we got to Kalasa and the Silent Valley, though, we couldn't help stopping off for a while beside a river. It was a broad shallow stream, its banks strewn about with a few rocks and greenery. We pulled up beside a group of Enduros. Others were swimming in the river or just lying about on the rocks enjoying the sun. Well, this is one way to do it
There were about half-a-dozen Bullets standing by the side of the road; others had been taken down a narrow dirt track right to the river's edge. We saw several of them coming back up and it was proving to be less than straightforward for some people. Limbs were flying everywhere as they powered their way up the steep final climb. After much discussion, Larry and I decided to go down to the river for a swim where David and Toby were floating serenely in the water.
The camera crew arrived and started interviewing anyone they could pin down. They tried to get a dozen of us to take the bikes back up the road and ride towards them for a group shot. But it wasn't going to happen. Everyone was too chilled out (or just too tired and happy) to be organised. We hung around the river for about three-quarters of an hour until the back markers arrived to hurry us on again. Toby and David were delayed a little longer as Vicky and one of the other girls had stolen their clothes. They were last seen picking their way gingerly back up to the road in bare feet (and bare everything else) searching for their gear.
The last ten kilometres up to Silent Valley were just motorcycle magic. The road was wide and well surfaced, almost the only one of its kind we had seen that day. It swept up into the hills, fast and twisty. The little roads we had been travelling on had been fun to ride, but it was a release at last to put on some speed and take the corners easily. I'd once heard someone say that motorcycling is the nearest you can get to flying without leaving the ground. On roads like this, that must be true. I left Larry with some other riders and latched on behind Jamie as we left the river and followed him up the hillside. Jamie's an excellent rider and I had a great time matching his speed and following his lines.
Kalasa lies in one of the highest parts of the Western Ghats. We were staying at Silent Valley, a chalet complex built into the steep hillside. It was basic. Very basic. And it only had chalets for about half of us; the rest of us were sleeping in tents, under a large awning by the swimming pool and in something known as ‘the cowshed.’ The accommodation had been allocated by lottery. When I checked the list, I found I was sharing a two-man tent. I dragged my two cases up the steep slope and stiffly organised myself a shower. On the way back down to the main buildings I passed by the open-air surgery. Several people were being bandaged up and there was a drip bag hanging from a nail in the ceiling. The medics had had a busy day.
John, one of the guys I had shared a chalet with the night before had decked his bike. He’d been lucky. Back in the UK he had broken his elbow in five places before the event and his elbow was full of titanium. He was still recovering from the operation and it had been touch and go whether he would make it out to India this year. Had he fallen badly today the outcome could have been nasty. He was shaken and a little bruised by his tumble, but he was OK.
Kevin is a professional rider. He had taken part in EnduroAfrica the previous year and had been encouraged to come out to India by Simon. He is a big guy, a crazy South-African with a forceful manner. His high-octane nuttery kept everyone entertained throughout the trip. He was carrying his mate Cooky on the back when they had taken a tumble. Their interminable banter was undiminished by the spill and captured on camera by one of the team. Neither of them was seriously hurt.
Another guy, Colin, had a frustrating ride. His bike’s exhaust fell off twice in the course of the afternoon. After that, he chucked it over a hedge and carried on without it. That wasn’t the end of his bad luck, though. An hour or so later, he took a tight corner too hard. Ahead of him was a sheer drop. With no chance of turning the bike in time, he jumped off and slid clear. The bike went straight over the edge, and a team had to go out and haul it back up the cliff later in the day. He wasn't seriously hurt, but I'm betting that parts of him were pretty sore.
The worst injury of the day belonged to David (one of the twins). He’d managed to negotiate all the technical bits of the ride without mishap but in the last few kilometres had relaxed to enjoy the scenery. I didn't hear the details, but he'd come off hard and ruptured his biceps. The medical crew were monitoring him but it was thought that he would have to fly back to the UK for surgery.
I heard news of lots of other minor tumbles in the course of the evening. As usual there were a fair few people knocking back Immodium tablets to help them cope with Delhi Belly and there had been one or two cases of mild dehydration. But no-one I spoke to seemed to be in anything other than high spirits. (On reflection, that's probably because those suffering had taken themselves off early to bed.)
As I came out of the shower I heard the sound of drumming down on the lawn. Two local dance troupes were putting on a show. If the first was acrobatic, the second was definitely energetic. I asked a performer about one of the dances. He told me it was traditional to his village; it was ‘The Frog Dance’ that the god Siva would perform at the end of the world. Are these guys in a hurry?
Dinner turned out to be a disaster for me that night. All the food had dairy products in it. Everything, that is, except the rice. Luckily, I like rice and can eat it in quantity, but it doesn't fill you. I regretted not eating in Ballehonur and went about the site for half-an-hour feeling hard-done-by, until I realised it wasn't getting me anywhere. I talked to the team, and they promised they would make sure it wouldn't happen again. The frog dance
It was a beautiful, clear night and I was very reluctant to sleep in the tent. Toby and David were planning to sleep out, so Hash and I joined them. We'd heard a rumour that there were big cats roaming the area: tigers and panthers were both mentioned. (We were in a wildlife reserve after all.) But what the hell! How much better protection would a tent give if a panther came prowling round the site? We laid our bedrolls under the volley ball net and hung our mosquito netting from it. Silent Valley
About thirty of us were accommodated on mattresses laid out on the concrete floor of 'the cowshed'. This was a large building with low half-walls about waist high and a high roof supported on poles. Those bedding out there didn’t sleep so well, I'm told. As I walked across the lawn to the volleyball court, the low rumble of snorers drifted over towards me. Later, I heard that one of the noisiest of them had been carried out, still sleeping, and his mattress laid out on the grass. I knew that Pip was kipping there that night, so I’d be willing to bet that it was him.
Out on the volleyball court there were no snorers. Apart from the chirrup of insects, all was dead quiet. It was another pitch black night, dark and shiney as molton tar, and peaceful under the stars. I felt at home watching the sky overhead and feeling the breeze on my face. If only life were always as good as this.