Friday, 22 February 2008

Rajasthan Vol.6 They think it's all over.....

In an effort to suck up to the loyal readership, (Sometimes I fear this might actually only comprise of Mrs B)
Good news, you are finally coming to the end of the Rajasthan BlackSLOG – to be honest those of you who have managed to keep going this long and read all the sections, in all the different formats, have possibly managed to put in more effort then Mrs B and I did for the actual cycling. After all, the entire cycling element only took us just over two weeks. It’s now time to put you out of your misery and wrap up the BlackSLOG Rajasthan odyssey.

I'm not sure what a collective term for
cyclists is, possibly a saddle of ....

At one with the natives
In the city we were just seen as tourists, viewed as a potential meal ticket and little more. It was a whole different story when we got out into the countryside. I’m not sure if we were seen as a travelling freak show? (I can just imagine the adverts that preceded our arrival “Come and see the 16 British nutters cycling across Rajasthan during the hottest part of the day”).

Shadow cycling, a bit like Shadow boxing
without the danger of smashing your
knuckles into a wall

As our group went through towns and villages hundreds of people would run to the side of the road and wave and smile and generally celebrate our entourages’ progress. Sort of like the Tour de France on a negative budget, an example of this being our support bus, which was certainly functional but if described in musical terms more Bucks Fizz than the Beatles (aside1).

The bikes loaded on the support bus,
not exactly Tour de France style.....

I made it my mission to greet as many of “our fans” as I could and after learning the Hindu greeting “Namaste”, shouting it to as many people as I could. Unfortunately the accompanying respectful small bow with hands held together at chest or head height, proved beyond my cycling ability. After my 3rd near fatal crash I decided to abandon the action part of the greeting. Admittedly after a few days I was changing the greeting for the sake of variety and a number of villagers were greeted with a mixture of the following:-
  • Christmas day,

  • Your hamster is gay,

  • Were you born in May,

  • I’ve lost my way,

  • Would you like hay….
Basically anything that rhymed with day. I subsequently found out from my friend and Hindu linguistic adviser, Mala, that I had got the pronunciation wrong and the end of Namaste does not sound like “day”. Mala has also corrected me on every other India word I have ever attempted in front of her. It’s refreshing to know it’s not just English that I can massacre. No wonder the villagers were smiling and giggling every time I tried to converse with them. This probably also explains why, whenever the group stopped in a village for lunch or general recovery, we would be surrounded by curious villagers who seemed content to just sidle up to us and then stand just staring and listening . I was sure I heard some sniggering - I just thought they were laughing at my jokes from earlier on in the day and had only just got the punchline. It was all a little unnerving at first but it soon became the norm.

The circus hits town, while the villagers
wait patiently for a Nielanunciation

In an effort to avoid catching the Rajasthan runs (please note that this is not a cricket term), we became extremely vigilant in the frequent use of various anti- bacteria sprays, especially after washing our hands (brown water is very off putting). This had the effect of making me feel a bit like a latter-day Howard Hughes, without the money or the finger nails.
Over the top as it may have been it certainly paid dividends in keeping us healthy. I am pretty confident that I could have made it to the end of the holiday, without any unfortunate dash and splash episodes if my hygiene routine had not been hijacked by Sanjay, one of our guides. Sanjay, was offering around some crisps at one of the stops. While I was busy trying to explain that I needed to clean my hands first, Sanjay thrust a handful of the crisps into my mouth. This left me with the dilemma, should I appear rude and spit the crisps out all over him or swallow and take the risk of contamination from his less than clean hands…….

The food
Well it was curry for breakfast, with the odd bit of toast thrown in for variety, followed by a curried lunch, which sustained us until an evening meal consisting of, let’s see if I can remember, I hate it when you get those mental blocks………think…..think……..oh yes, it was curry.

Tempted as we were we decided to stick to the
curries - I particularly love the line on the sign
"Don't be fooled by imiltationes". Their spelling
not mine

The hardest thing for me was the four or five days where the meals stayed curried but lost a vital ingredient. Meat vanished from the menu, very hard for a confirmed carnivore such as myself but somehow I managed to survive this ordeal. Despite this spicy assault on our stomachs we remained relatively healthy I only suffered a very short dose of the dreaded Delhi Belly (or Gringo gallop, Aztec two step, Rangoon runs, Montezuma’s Revenge, Tokyo Trots, Affair with the Porcelain princess, depending where in the world you are when the contents of your body exist swiftly south at high velocity and frequent intervals) and I blame this entirely on Sanjay.

The joy of punctures
I managed just one, but that turned out to be a triple. After fixing two out of the three I gave up and replaced the inner tube with a new one. (If anyone happens to see Meatloaf in the near future could you let him know from me, that while “Two out of three ain’t bad” for some things, it’s a total waste of time for punctures).

When I say that I fixed the puncture I have
to admit that I had a bit of a helping hand
or six, my role was more supervisory.......

Trying to put a positive spin on the situation, it resulted in a lighter backpack for me and justified bring spare inner tubes. Mrs B failed to get any punctures, which proved a very sensible approach to cycling and one that I would very much like to adopt myself. Thinking it through logically it is my own fault, as I am invariably ahead of Mrs B, my tyres clearing all the thorns, sharp stones, nails etc from her path leaving her a clear run home. James proved to be the king of punctures picking up at least four that I was aware of, including one involving 7 holes. Clive of India decided to puncture his big toe rather than his tyres, which probably explains his flat footedness towards the end of the trip.

The roads
Initially the roads were pretty good, a bit too much cow dung and Elephant doo doo, for my liking, but not too many pot holes. This was just as well as our bikes, being without suspension, were real bone shakers. As the trip went on the roads deteriorated alarmingly, taking our bikes with them, as they developed all sorts of new squeaks, rattles and even started auto gear changing when you least expected or needed them to. The odd thing was that the roads between the villages were, in general, pretty good but once you got into the villages they became like a first world war battlefield, huge holes ready to swallow the unwary traveller whole. It was almost like the villages used the entire stretch of road as one long continuous speed bump.

And in the end.....
At the end of the trip we had covered 565 kilometres on the bikes, (not according to my bike computer which stated that we had covered just 15.7 kilometeres) consumed around 50 curries each and taken over 1,500 photo's. We saw some fantastic sights including a tiger in the wild (fortunately from a jeep and not the bike), The Taj Mahal (rather more impressive than the ones found in many British high streets) The Red Fort (No argument from me, it was definitely a fort and a red one at that). We met some fantastic people, both Indian and English and had probably one of our best holidays, outside of skiing. You can’t ask for more than that.

Three months after our return the bikes remained resolutely in bits in their boxes in the garage. I was so unenthused with the prospect of putting the damn things back together again that I went out and purchased a new bike. I just need to persuade Mrs B to do the same……(aside2).

I’m sorry that the BlackSLOG went a bit “War and Peace” on you and sadly not in a classical literary way, just in a damn long over-wordy one. Back to normal next time, or as normal as the BlackLOG ever manages.

The locals literally bent over backwards to entertain us

I wish this was my photo of a tiger,
while technically I did take the picture, it was
of a post card so probably does not count...

In case you can't work it out, this was my
picture of a tiger. In my defence it was from a
long way off, in fading light and from a
moving vehicle...............

Indian scaffolding and British builders
think that their jobs are dangerous....

An Indian mobile phone, they claim
that the battery can last for several
minutes at a time

The end of the BlackSLOG through Rajasthan. If you would like to see more of the Indian trip Photos let me know and I'll sort something out on Facebook...

(1) Incidentally I read recently that Cliff Richard attempted to rubbish the Beatles claiming they often played off key. Rather then start a witch-hunt I propose we burn Cliff Richard now (and no I don't mean onto CD) and put an end to audio suffering the world over. Even the people that attend Wimbledon in the rain deserve some compassion and not to be tortured by impromptu Cliff performances. I’m not sure about the misguided folk who purchase Cliff's music and/or attend his concerts. With no known cure for "Clifforrhoea" in site and the real fear of contamination, it might be better to isolate them from decent members of society. Care in the community has a lot to answer for!!. Incidentally while I would be prepared to travel the length of the Globe and through time itself, to see the Beatles (Sadly I was only 4 when the Beatles split and I was not in a position to demand that I be taken up to hear The Beatles play their last ever public concert, 30th January 1970, on the roof of No. 3 Saville Rowe) I would not even waste the effort of turning around in order to see Cliff. Harsh but true....

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A typical Bollywood style pose....

(2) I finally found some time and put both bikes back together. Through some miracle (i.e trial and error and a large dose of hammer action) I even managed to balance Mrs B's gears, so that they change up and down almost in accordance with Mrs B's gear selection. Something that has not actually happened since before the bikes were, I hesitate to use the terminology, designed.

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I did not have the heart to tell
the little girl in green that the
phone that she had swapped her
shoes for was not a picture phone
yet alone dual band....

Thursday, 14 February 2008

BlackSLOG Rajasthan Vol.5 Possibly the penultimate one, but who knows…..

Finally for those of you who have stuck with it, some details of the actual cycling.....
The first day was a short 15 kilometre trip around New Delhi. This allowed us to iron out some of the inevitable problems which you get when a couple of amateur mechanics, namely Mrs B & myself, are left to open a couple of large boxes full of sub standard metal bits and a couple of odd looking tools and no instructions. It’s all very well getting someone to pack your bikes up for you, but you kind of miss out on knowing where all those strange little bits came from when you are trying to put them back together again. Add to this the joy of doing it in the dark, with dinner waiting for you at the end of it and a rumbling tummy. All things considered it seemed to go relatively smoothly and soon we were left with the simple task of just pumping up our tyres. I had chosen to ignore, of course, the sizeable pile of left over screws and bolts which had materialised with no apparent home - taking the optimistic view that at least the bikes would be lighter for it. I proudly pulled out my new fangled pump, freshly purchased for the trip. A fantastic little gadget that promised to embarrass all other pumps available on the market with its innovative design and ease of use. So impressed was I by the write up on the box I had decided to travel without an emergency backup pump. Sadly, I never found out how good the little pump was because, when I attached the pump to the valve and pulled on the cord (what a surprise - a Mr B purchase not actually following the tried and tested path of conventional wisdom. What can I say? It was a new wonder gadget, which like all wonder gadgets promises far more than they can ever hope to deliver) there was a brief flurry of activity at the business end of the pump, followed by a sad little pfumff noise. The connection for the valve had exploded. I managed to pick up about 95% of it, which gave me a shard of hope that it might actually still work but sadly it was still 100% f ‘ing useless. Such a wonderful design. Mrs B laughs at me with my emergency backup solutions, but every time I go without an emergency backup solution an incredibly unlikely situation seems to develop. This was the first time that I met and started to loath Marvin. He was the only person around who had a pump. I introduced myself and asked if I could borrow it (I did not even mention that I had just destroyed mine). Talk about getting blood out of a stone. It's not like I had asked to borrow something important like an MP3 player (I'm trying to avoid giving Apple any free advertising by mentioning Ipods.....Doh!) . I can't remember if he handed over the pump in the end or not. I suspect not because I don't remember signing for anything in triplicate.

As we rode through the streets of New Delhi it became obvious that this was going to be an experience way beyond anything we had ever come across before. For starters: our bikes shared the roads with the expected cars, lorries and rickshaws as well as cows, camels, goats, chickens, even the occasional elephant and hundreds of weddings (1 aside). Other than requiring the odd tweak to the brakes and gears the bikes seemed fine. Even the bike computer, for once, worked perfectly, registering every cm of the 15.7 kilometres we cycled on the first day. Sadly it would be the last time it would work. When I switched it on on the second day - nada, nothing, not even a little note saying goodbye. How rude is that?

Oh no, Vol 5 and I have only covered day one of the cycling. Don't worry I'll try and abridge the rest...... In the meantime I've included a few more pictures of India for you to ignore. (I'm feeling a bit hurt. I was looking at the usage stats and I noticed a number of hits to the site which lasted for 5 seconds or less. Ouch. Not even enough time to notice how badly the words have been chucked together.)

How - Indian Style

Difficult to work out if this man had been bitten
on both cheeks or is just suffering blow back

God I hope she doesn't drink it, the man
before her washed his smalls in there.

The indian women do have a tendancy to
let themselves go after they reach 30

While not a great quality picture it captures some of the problems that our bus driver had. The most interesting moment was when we were heading full pelt towards three lorries who were so busy overtaking each other as they came over the brow of a hill that they were not that interested in us. Bearing in mind that this was on a two lane road, I'm sure I saw our driver use the tried and trusted "shut his eyes and breath in to make himself thin" technique, to get us through. Personally I didn't see how we missed them because my eyes were clamped shut and I was breathing in like my life depended on it.

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(1) Whenever we were in a city or a town there seemed to be endless weddings taking place. Apparently they can go on for weeks or even months. Every cousin, Uncle, Aunt or person who has ever shared a conversation with any one that knows the bride or groom seems to get an invite. (A sort of Facebook approach to building up your wedding list (2 aside)). All the wedding parties we witnessed had one thing in common, a smiling bride and a very uncomfortable looking groom who did not look happy to be stuck on an elephant and paraded through the streets for all to see. The wedding party would travel through the street accompanied by lights and music all powered by a generator the size of a large car, built from leftover scrap from the 1940's and which seemed to make more noise then the music it was attempting to power. Which is no bad thing since the music tends to be more “Within you, without you” than “A day in the life” (Hint, go listen to Sgt. Peppers if you don’t understand the reference. Of course I mean the Beatles' version not that Bee Gees travesty from the mid 70’s).

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(2) While I did not know everyone who attended my wedding I am assured that Mrs B, myself or at least Mrs B’s parents had met everyone at least once. There was one notable exception to this, being one of Mrs B’s cousins, who brought along what appeared to be a lady of negotiable virtue. Fortunately she had very good legs because we certainly got to see an awful lot of them, thanks to the belt that she was wearing in place of a skirt. The lady in question and her legs have not been seen since, other then the odd appearance on one of those obscure late night channels, that you have to pay “extra for” or so I have been informed by people who watch such things..........

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Sunday, 3 February 2008

BlackSLOG Rajasthan Vol.4

India, the lost world, or probably would
have been if I’d been left in charge of it….

I'm not entirely sure what happened to me this holiday but I seemed to go through a spate of losing everything. Mrs B would probably claim nothing new in this, having experienced years of finding my keys in the fridge or wet towels in the dining room. In fact, I think she secretly gets a bit worried if I leave the towels in the bathroom, but just won’t admit it to me. The worrying thing on this holiday was the intensity and regularity of the losses.

First I lost the two Gig Memory card for our camera. Not an unused card, oh no, but the one that held over 500 pictures of India that we had been busily taking. I ran around like a headless chicken, emptying the bags and checking the camera case at least 5 times. Mrs B then checked the camera case and agreed it was not in there. She then turned it upside down. Just at the moment that I exclaimed "Don't be silly it's not a magic case!" the SD card came tumbling out onto the table in front of the whole group. This left me with a feeling of great relief, mixed in with a huge dollop of embarrassment. I'm just glad that I had not worked up past the emotion of "stunned disappointment" on my way to full-on "toys out of the pram" tantrum.

Next the spare battery for the camera went walk about. It was in the camera case but made a bid for freedom when I was forced to do some Indian folk dancing (1 aside). I had seen the battery just moments before and was determined to keep the investigation low key, especially after the incident with the magically reappearing memory card. So I was surreptitiously trying to incorporate an inch by inch search of the sand that we were dancing on by cleverly, or so I thought, building it into my dance routine. The fact it was dark and I was using a torch somewhat scuppered my attempt to keep it on a “need to know” basis. My reputation as a serial loser of items was starting to build momentum. My attempts at keeping the operation clandestine were further hampered when one of the little Indian entertainers excavated the battery from the sand and went into celebration mode worthy of scoring the winning goal in a cup final. By the time I had paid him enough hush hush money, the campsite, town and half of Rajasthan seemed to be aware of the loss and subsequent find.

Then came the loss of my Ipod (2 aside). I was sure that I had left it beside the bed when we went out riding for the day and only noticed it was missing when I was packing to move to our next destination, later that night. I unpacked and repacked my bag twice and checked every nook and cranny of the room at least three times. I even did that pathetic opening and closing of cupboard doors, just in case the Ipod reappeared while the door was shut (it didn't). I then unpacked & repacked Mrs B's bags a couple of times for good measure, before my constant rustling finally drew Mrs B back from the other side. Far from being angry, Mrs B picked up on my distress (I guess it was the pathetic whimpering noises that I was now making and the rhythmical banging of my head against the floor that gave it away) and additional, more organised, packing and unpacking of the bags and search of the room now took place. After a couple of hours it was obvious that the Ipod was no longer with us. I trudged down to the 24 hour reception but it had closed (they had probably popped out to sell an Ipod). So it was off for a rather restless night of non-sleep, as I imagined my Ipod being sold into slavery and forced into playing Indian music for the rest of its very short and sorry life (3 aside). In the morning, I reported the loss to the receptionist, who was particularly ambivalent about my loss. It was only when I reported it to Krishna, our tour guide, for insurance purposes that the hotel started to take it seriously. Our room was searched again. Nothing was found. The hotel manager went through our bags - nothing. Thank god I had not “borrowed” the towels and bed covers or that nice marble desk top that I had my eye on. I filled in a lost property report and made my way to the coach where everyone had been waiting patiently for an hour (possibly a little less patiently for the next half hour and with positively gritted teeth for the final 15 minutes of waiting.) 20 minutes into the coach transfer, at the start point for the day's cycling, Krishna received a phone call from the hotel. A miracle had occurred and the Ipod had appeared in the cupboard under the TV in our room. Yep, the one that had been searched and re-searched over a dozen times by at least 5 different people. Rather embarrassingly, the coach returned to the hotel. I can't be sure but when I picked up the Ipod from the manager, one of the porters was limping badly and looked like he had acquired a couple of black eyes in the time we had been away from the hotel. The upshot of all this was that, although we completed the 82-kilometer ride for the day, it was considerably darker at the end than it should have been. This turned out to be a good thing though, as it allowed me to slip away unseen from the group until they had washed, rested, and most importantly of all put down the rocks they had been collecting along the way....

Now personally I do not feel the final loss was my fault at all, but with my holiday track record I can see how the group could come to the conclusion that I was possibly responsible for the loss of the Taj Mahal (4 aside). We arrived at the point where it should have been but could see no sign of it. The Policeman in the group, Mark, immediately started an investigation but failed to find it..

I can’t believe it, someone’s managed to nick the Taj Mahal

In an attempt to placate the distraught party and to make up for their enforced waiting, during the miracle of the magically reappearing Ipod incident, I designed and created a model of the Taj Mahal, in human form, for the group to treasure.

The Taj in Human form, including the world’s press. All that was lacking was Lady Di…..Sanjay was definitely over-acting and over-embellished the lean of the front minaret

Sadly, the fog lifted, exposing my efforts at recreating the Taj as falling a touch short of reality. In hindsight, I should have used more and much better quality materials. A Princess Diana look a like in front of it, would have helped with the illusion, but sadly, Clive could not fit into the dress we had.

If only Clive could have fitted into that Diana dress, we would have had the world fooled……

I know it looks like a cheap backdrop but that is honestly Mrs B and me in front of the real Taj Mahal

Interestingly enough the group proved to have a very short memory and somewhat surprisingly entrusted the tip money for the guides and drivers to me, no pressure there then.

All that Stretching finally paid off and Q managed to prize open his wallet…..


(1) When I say forced, I mean that the dreadful sound started and I stormed the dance floor, jumping about in a misguided attempt to distract the band for ;long enough to stop the awful racket. I failed miserably but too late the battery made for the exit, probably through the embarrassment of being associated with me.

The shuffle search dance, very energetic but ultimately proved fruitless Return to text

(2) Of course it had to be the new 160Gig video one, not my old photo one, which I had brought along as an emergency backup, for just such a situation. I feel it fully justified its place on the trip, as it soothed my tortured soul through the shock of losing its film-playing sibling. It stopped me from going into the total melt down that separation from my music for any prolonged length of time, results in. What can I say? Some people drink and others take drugs to get them through the rigours of life. I happen to do music. No one really suffers, except Mrs B on the odd occasion when the music gets played a little loud at night and disturbs her slumber. This is very rare though, as it is normally easier to wake the dead. Besides, the dead don't require tea to make them fully functional.

Some people feel that I would probably function better on drugs and alcohol, I’m afraid to say what you see is what you get……

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(3) I'd give it about three to four weeks, possibly less if there is a lot of sitar music involved. That's better than the five hours of tortured existence if a Cliff Richard fan got hold of it. It's just as well Cliff never got into Indian music, the Ipod suicide rate would have reached pandemic proportions with a life expectancy measured in seconds.....

Krishna, our guide, attempts to cheer me up by predicting the expected lifespan of my missing Ipod, when subjected to Indian music, sadly it didn’t have the desired affect ….

(4) Even a philistine such as myself could tell that the Taj Mahal is one of the most romantic places on earth. Sadly, almost two weeks of curries (much of it vegetable based) morning noon and night started to take its toll. Mrs B could not work out why I kept sideling away, supposedly to take photos

Well, wouldn’t you if you had survived on a diet of vegetable curry for weeks on end…?

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