A Travellerspoint blog

Day Six - Unwanted Hisses and Not So Near Misses

We were out of the front door just gone eight and on our way out we left Vishnu the sheet secreter with a kings ransom of a tip. Ingenuity and efficiency are qualities we appreciate!

The atmosphere at base camp was electric. A sense of the impending had people in jittery mood and was causing one gent to display transient tourettes.

After a semi-rousing speech and a group photo the engines began roaring, the drums were summoned and the horns took note. Dust swirled as Tuk-Tuks bottle necked to race out of the compound. Fingers on the ignition, hairs standing on end and perspiration building, we turned our engines off and smiled and waved as everyone pulled out and turned right towards the ferry.

We had arrived on the same ferry a few days earlier and at best guess it would only take between twelve and fifteen of our chicken chasers at a time. We'd looked at the map and chosen a slightly longer way out over the bridge. We'd also discussed paying the ferry pilot ten thousand rupees to tell everyone he was only taking two tuk tuks today and then cruising past the queue issuing smiles as we went. There'd be enough to spend our money on ahead of us.

As the dust settled there was one team left; Team Army looked like an Indian Pit Crew with at two mechanics and two organisers frantically searching for what had gone wrong with their pimped wheels.

We started our engines; the band had gone. With no fanfare we turned left; it had begun.

The roads were mental. Pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, tuks, buses, coaches, lorries, dogs and cattle all claiming right of way in one form or another. No one looks over their shoulder. That's the job of the person driving the vehicle behind you. If everyone is looking forward then no one can crash. Sort of.

So: Pedestrians and cyclists keep left but will swerve out unannounced if a street chicken goes rogue. Motorbikes are like sand, they fill every gap until you're being squeezed out of your own pants and you're still not entirely sure how they got through the impenetrable gap you'd left in the first place. Coaches are on the clock. Their drivers have an unachievable time-table but today's the day they're going to get there. That means nothing can stand in their way. If they have to overtake a chain of lorries on a blind corner; well that's just two beeps on the horn. If they're overtaking on the straight (read; in the wrong lane doing 80kph directly at you) that's a flash of the lights. Everyone else brakes and everyone swerves and just about survives. That leaves us with lorry drivers. They're the real heavyweights. They have somewhere to be; they're not slouches but they only got a pass on the school of driving courage certificate whereas the coach drivers passed with distinction.

We saw a few other Tukkers on the way out and had a very one sided water pistol fight with Team Super Mario (They had pistols, we didn't).

Out of town we'd stopped for a coffee on the highway and had been going for only a few minutes when a code red came in from Em and Al. They'd lost power.

It turned out to be a straight forward remedy cured with careful manipulation of the fuel storage cap and the addition of some more petrol. 3-400kms per tank they said! Pasha had done 80.

By the time Pasha caught up with Tony our back tyre was looking a bit squidgy again. When we went to pump it up there was air hissing out of the valve stalk. Tony needed a new inner tube. We were in luck the guy running the chai stall where we'd parked had a brother who did tyres. His brother's shop was nearby. We asked 'How nearby?' He pointed at the building immediately behind his shop. Twenty feet away!

Back on the highway and it was hard, hard driving. Tuk-tuks are neither fast nor nimble. There were extensive roadworks with diversions on and off the highway were lanes would attempt to merge whilst moving from tar to impacted and potholed hardcore. Horns blared and vehicles appeared from nowhere on all sides. This was a lesson in hardcore, no prisoners, driving and like lambs in the lion pen we were about to be eaten alive.

There had already been several near misses, at least what we call near misses, but the road had deteriorated and a series of diversions and roadworks had people doing crazy things. The highway had narrowed into a two contra-flowing lanes. We were tucked in behind Emma and Al when a six wheeler truck decided to overtake us. To our left was a six inch drop off the tar onto sand, rubble, occasional open manholes and signposts galore. To our right was a truck that was only just noticing the two trucks coming in the opposite direction. Two trucks and two lanes was a tight squeeze and given that we were now in our drivers blind spot. We were braking but he was already swerving, into us. We were near is back end when he hit us and we didn't stand a chance. Weoff the road immediately, the side window had popped open and the stanchion had crumpled. We hit the sand hard and like a ship on the high seas Tony was rocking and rolling. God only know how we didn't roll over fully. Once we 'd regained control the pursuits was on and a minute later we'd caught up with the lorry. Managing to get in front of him we slowed him to a halt and pulled over.

Within the next half an hour a roadside court had formed. Tony had been assessed and his damages set at R5000. The driver, who to be fair probably hadn't seen or felt us at the time of impact, seemed fairly dejected at the situation but his keys were taken from him and given to me. I was told that the police had been called and I was not to give the driver his keys back until we had our money. Al had already gotten to work with the gaffer tape and we now had a roof over our heads again. The hole doesn't for the side window anymore so we'd be stuck with that.

The police arrived and a debate ensued the driver said he only had R3000 and by that time the shock was dissipating and moral questions were taking hold. We accepted his offer, shook hands and departed.

The driver was working for a big trucking company in Chennai. We hoped dearly that the money we'd just taken, just shy of £40, was company cash. If that is the case, we'll sleep well. If it wasn't then we'd just taken a fortune from a guy that made a mistake. Whether it was right to accept a reduced amount or any money at all is up for debate. We were both still pale and in shock and very lucky to have escaped unharmed.

The rest of the day was good driving. We'd lost too much time to get all the way to Ooty and so Coimbatore ended up being our final destination. We failed to book accommodation in advance and so we stopped and asked some guy on a stall where we could go. He told us there was a place called Aloft. It was a palace. A chain of palaces in fact. They have one in the old Liver Insurance building in Liverpool!

A cold 'British Empire' lager quenched the thirst accompanied by some cooling cucumber and carrot slices dusted with celery salt.

Dinner came from a little restaurant over the road. Dinesh was our host and we ate Dosas and Chapathis using banana leaves as plates. The sauces were bloody delicious; chicken gravy and another couple of perfectly spiced sauces. We were stuffed. I came to pay and it cost R150. We posed with Dinesh for the obligatory 'selfie' before returning to our hotel.

Laura had a starlit swim in the pool before we spent a night in luxury, lying awake, hearts still racing and the whole room still shaking from the day's exertions.

Posted by ibeamish 07:28 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Five - Everyone Loves a Carnival

We surfaced at 12 and slowly made our way to a cafe that Laura had been keen on the previous morning. As we stepped inside there was a definite whiff of poop but we were going upstairs and it didn't seem to stop us. It was busy. So busy that there were no spare tables, which as it turned out, didn't matter anyway because the owner told us that the cafe was closed because of the Carnival. We left; mildly confused.

The cafe a few doors down had Kerala pancakes (raisins, chopped cashews and coconut) dhosas and vegetable curry as well as lathi's and coffee. Our restoration had commenced.

We had an hour of joy whereby we paid a taxi driver to take us to get fuel, 2stroke oil, cuo homders and some other bits and then, having dropped it all off with the Tuks we made a bee-line for the party.

Some of the finely decorated tuk-tuks led the celebration followed by an Indian elephant and rider, chains in place but seemingly in good condition; Al asked "How do you tell if an elephant is happy? Three of us are still waiting for the punchline, answers can be added to the comments please.

Behind the elephant was a full entourage of Ganesh, Krishna and a cracking Vishnu. Drum ensembles and dance troupes added glitz to the celebration.

New Years Eve had taken it's toll so we soon went back to our hotel and went over our route again while we munched on some hastily bought samosas, banana fritters and meat things that looked like hockey pucks. Vishnu came to say hello and we asked if he had the fresh towels we'd requested. He said yes and gave us one per couple. I carried on hunting for a pan to make some sugar syrup (Old Fashions) and on opening the cupboard a job lot of used bed sheets and towels fell out! We asked Vishnu does he always keep the guests dirty linen in the kitchen. He smiled gently and shook his head. He's a lovely lad!

We'd be leaving Kochi at nine tomorrow morning. It was time for bed.

Posted by ibeamish 16:16 Comments (0)

Day Four - Gearing Up

sunny 29 °C

The handle cranked upwards in the left hand as gentle pressure was applied to the throttle. Tony's 2-stroke heart roared to life. Tony is a quality piece of kit

We bumped into several other 'Runners' today but the most noticeable was a team with what looked like a picture of three chipmunks on their Tuk-Tuk. Their names were Ollie and Squirrel. Suddenly the picture made sense. We got chatting and it turned out Ollie had been living in France for a while too. The common ground got us going and he mentioned he'd been playing rugby out there for a team called Stade de France. Being a footballer I though that sounded like a bit of a guff team so we nodded politely and carried on the conversation. That was when Emma said, "Rugby! We have a really cool competition in South Africa called the Seven's tournament. It's brilliant fun and a great day out; if you're ever down you really should go. You'll have friends, beers, a great day out!" Her words came just moments before the IRB Player of the Year 2009 bashfully came out with "Errr yeah, I captained England at that tournament for a few years." Smooth like chocolate Em.

Today was spares day and the word was out that a chap and his english speaking wife across town were doing a roaring, and reasonably priced trade, in spark plugs, gaskets and cables galore. We set off, still getting to grips with scooter style gear system.

The noise on the roads in India is incredible. Engines hum as horns greet each other in a cacophony of mild mannered content. The scent of the air is spiced exhaust fume and an ever present haze permeates through the towns. The Indian head shake with a soft smile and gentle eyes is ever present and heartwarming to behold. Al had a great point when he suggested that there's no ego here. People are genuinely happy just to make eye contact and say hello. Tomy was following the Peacock, now affectionately named Pasha (Grrrreat!!) with Al in the hot seat giving a very good impression of a man that's very good at driving a Tuk-Tuk. Anyway we were negotiating traffic with me cursing every time I missed a gear when suddenly; there were no gears. The twisty handle was still twisty but didn't feel like it was pulling cable anymore. Laura was suggesting I calm down and try the gear again but the starter crank wouldn't work as we were still in gear! The cacophony suddenly felt like it was all for us. The pressure mounted as eventually Alasdair reappeared around the corner and three of us pushed Tony to safety. The next thing Al had his head in the engine bay whilst I pulled cables from the front trying to work out which were for gears and where it had come loose. Leathermen out we got to work on the dash board/steering wheel and it's one instrument, a combined Speedo/Odometer. Underneath we found two broken zip ties that had been holding an oversized gear cable to a broken mount. With a few more zip ties we'd solved the problem. Along with gaffer tape they're a cure for any conundrum. The shop had almost everything we desired including some reflective tape, however we were still missing day-glo hub cabs and drinks holders. Another day perhaps.

On the way back we were politely heckled by some yoofs driving in a proper car and they got us to pull over. Turns out they wanted a selfie with us and Tony! We duly obliged and made our way off. It turns out lots of locals live getting a selfie with tourists and most people just want a quick pic and a chance to shake hands. Lovely stuff.

We took Tony back to the church and showed him to a mechanic who reckoned he could fix the gear issue.

That evening we got into our finest regalia and boarded a boat to be ferried over to an island. There, we would be greeted by a traditional Indian band; horns drums, energy and perspiration. Our New Years Eve was spent having dinner on the lawn of a very plush hotel looking out across the water to Kochin followed by some dancing to fairly heavy dance music even by Scouse standards. The early hours of New Years Day were spent trying to visit every fried chicken joint in south west India.

Posted by ibeamish 09:50 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day Three - Well Oiled

We'd met Tony briefly but it was time to get to know him more intimately. Our bums set comfortably into his vinyl upholstered seat. Our knees spread at a full one hundred and twenty degrees, it was an ankles round our ears sort of job. The basic layout is one up front and space for two behind. But Tony wasn't designed for long-haul comfort.

The heat was turning up a notch and we were already perspiring a little in the shade. We'd been told to check the vehicle over, Hertz rental style, for any damage. When Laura's report was handed back the girl on the desk chuckled none of our list made the 'something to be arsed about' defcon level and so we returned, across the lawn, to Tony; but this time with a key in our hand!

As was appropriate I decided that I wouldn't need advice on how to start him; rather I'd rely on innate knowledge of 'how stuff works' gleaned from a gene pool hundreds of years in the making. Eventually a chap called Dom popped over and asked did I need a hand as I looked like I was struggling. It was time to admit that it might be good to have a couple of pointers.

I was quite far off ever getting started. 1. I hadn't realised there was a crank handle to get him going though, to be fair, I had found the right slot so that the key was in the ignition. 2. What we thought was an accelerator pedal was in fact a brake and 3. Possibly the most important point, the fuel line has an on/off switch at the back of the Tuk-Tuk. It was set to the 'off' position. Maybe the genes have skipped a generation.

So the next hour was spent hurtling/stalling/panicked braking/sweatily cranking Tony in and out of life as we turned the church lawn into a dust bowl and began blistering the palms of our hands in Rickshaw joy.

And so we met Rich, the videographer for the trip. Watching me perspiring, a pale sweaty white man, blisters in the palms of his hands, blackened oily fingers, grappling with Indian technology, Laura seemed fresh faced and jovial as she was interviewed. Eventually Laura and Rich came over to see what was the trouble with my vehicle. As Rich asked had we done anything like this before and I proudly began regaling him with my new Dom-taught knowledge. I failed to make a diagnosis and with that he pointed at my dangling spark plug line and suggested plugging it back in before I started working out how to strip the engine. Those pesky genes...

Now it's difficult to describe what a tricky fish Tony is. His gears feel awful, just because the handle is at the right spot, sometimes it takes a few seconds before the gears actually catch and he switches up or down. He has to be in neutral before he can reverse and then he has as many reverse gears as forward! (Four). His mirrors are, as Al describes, 'Pish! His rear windscreen is a piece of sandblasted and dusty vinyl. He handles corners like a drunken sailor with an inner ear infection and his lights might as well be candles for all the use they are. He's a beast and we already live him. I suspect he'll get us where we're going one way or another but Christ we'll need to work for it.

That afternoon we had a great lecture on fault finding, stripping the carburettor, replacing the head gasket and a few other crucial bits all of which Al and I nodded keenly at and hopefully took on board.

A busy day done it was time for a cold one. Laura however had other ideas. She'd booked a massage with the works. Steam room followed by a seated head massage and then full body rub down. We dropped her at the hotel at five and made our way back to town.

By seven pm, Emma, Al and I were getting a little apprehensive at Laura's lack of response on either of the UK or Indian mobile phones and the walkie talkie wasn't working either. We made our way back to the hotel and on discovering she wasn't there, asked the man on reception, Vishnu, did he know what was going on. He called the parlour and they told him Laura was just finishing off and would be back soon. Al poured us some more drinks. Half an hour later Laura walked in. She had a look of radiance about her. The kind if radiance, and indeed appearance, that would come from her being dipped head first in a vat of olive oil. Indian olive oil though because she smelt like a vegetable pakora.

We planned our first days drive in a little more detail. We'll be going off piste to try and get to the Ghats mountain range, Indias second largest after the Himalayas, and the tea gardens they contain. It's starting to feel like we're on an adventure!

Posted by ibeamish 17:50 Comments (0)

Day Three - Well Oiled

We'd met Tony briefly but it was time to get to know him more intimately. Our bums set comfortably into his vinyl upholstered seat. Our knees spread at a full one hundred and twenty degrees, it was an ankles round our ears sort of job. The basic layout is one up front and space for two behind. But Tony wasn't designed for long-haul comfort.

The heat was turning up a notch and we were already perspiring a little in the shade. We'd been told to check the vehicle over, Hertz rental style, for any damage. When Laura's report was handed back the girl on the desk chuckled none of our list made the 'something to be arsed about' defcon level and so we returned, across the lawn, to Tony; but this time with a key in our hand!

As was appropriate I decided that I wouldn't need advice on how to start him; rather I'd rely on innate knowledge of 'how stuff works' gleaned from a gene pool hundreds of years in the making. Eventually a chap called Dom popped over and asked did I need a hand as I looked like I was struggling. It was time to admit that it might be good to have a couple of pointers.

I was quite far off ever getting started. 1. I hadn't realised there was a crank handle to get him going though, to be fair, I had found the right slot so that the key was in the ignition. 2. What we thought was an accelerator pedal was in fact a brake and 3. Possibly the most important point, the fuel line has an on/off switch at the back of the Tuk-Tuk. It was set to the 'off' position. Maybe the genes have skipped a generation.

So the next hour was spent hurtling/stalling/panicked braking/sweatily cranking Tony in and out of life as we turned the church lawn into a dust bowl and began blistering the palms of our hands in Rickshaw joy.

And so we met Rich, the videographer for the trip. Watching me perspiring, a pale sweaty white man, blisters in the palms of his hands, blackened oily fingers, grappling with Indian technology, Laura seemed fresh faced and jovial as she was interviewed. Eventually Laura and Rich came over to see what was the trouble with my vehicle. As Rich asked had we done anything like this before and I proudly began regaling him with my new Dom-taught knowledge. I failed to make a diagnosis and with that he pointed at my dangling spark plug line and suggested plugging it back in before I started working out how to strip the engine. Those pesky genes...

Now it's difficult to describe what a tricky fish Tony is. His gears feel awful, just because the handle is at the right spot, sometimes it takes a few seconds before the gears actually catch and he switches up or down. He has to be in neutral before he can reverse and then he has as many reverse gears as forward! (Four). His mirrors are, as Al describes, 'Pish! His rear windscreen is a piece of sandblasted and dusty vinyl. He handles corners like a drunken sailor with an inner ear infection and his lights might as well be candles for all the use they are. He's a beast and we already live him. I suspect he'll get us where we're going one way or another but Christ we'll need to work for it.

That afternoon we had a great lecture on fault finding, stripping the carburettor, replacing the head gasket and a few other crucial bits all of which Al and I nodded keenly at and hopefully took on board.

A busy day done it was time for a cold one. Laura however had other ideas. She'd booked a massage with the works. Steam room followed by a seated head massage and then full body rub down. We dropped her at the hotel at five and made our way back to town.

By seven pm, Emma, Al and I were getting a little apprehensive at Laura's lack of response on either of the UK or Indian mobile phones and the walkie talkie wasn't working either. We made our way back to the hotel and on discovering she wasn't there, asked the man on reception, Vishnu, did he know what was going on. He called the parlour and they told him Laura was just finishing off and would be back soon. Al poured us some more drinks. Half an hour later Laura walked in. She had a look of radiance about her. The kind if radiance, and indeed appearance, that would come from her being dipped head first in a vat of olive oil. Indian olive oil though because she smelt like a vegetable pakora.

We planned our first days drive in a little more detail. We'll be going off piste to try and get to the Ghats mountain range, Indias second largest after the Himalayas, and the tea gardens they contain. It's starting to feel like we're on an adventure!

Posted by ibeamish 17:50 Comments (0)

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