The Highway Code is AWOL
The Indians have at least attempted some road safety measures, albeit unsuccessfully. The placing of speed bumps coming in to built up areas is well intentioned but they produce less of a jolt than the potholes either side so there is really no incentive to slow down.
They have also tried to slow traffic using huge metal gates as chicanes which merely succeeded in forcing all the traffic in to the middle of the road, or off it completely if a bus was coming. Evidently it is a sacking offence for a bus driver to give way.
Every few miles workers were “repairing” the road surface. There were no jack hammers, no steam rollers, just a couple of blokes smashing large rocks in to smaller rocks so they sort of fitted in to the hole. Then they moved on to the next one. Meanwhile, a lorry would drive over the first hole and scatter the rocks in all directions. You couldn’t help thinking that they just spent all day not repairing the same two holes.
Surrounded by bum gravy
Driving is not the only hazard though. Our previous Indian trip, Rickshaw Rampage, had produced some pretty epic bowel explosions and this trip was proving even more of an anal assassin. The situation was probably not helped by the fact that we were almost constantly surrounded by flood waters that were a rich source of bum gravy.
Food stops were made all the more entertaining by playing the “How out of date is this?” game. Biscuits and crisps were usually at least three months past their best, but the outright winner was the “Super Fresh” mango juice in an internet cafe, which managed a full nine months out of date. There was also the moment we questioned the wisdom of buying ice creams from a shop in which the power had gone off several times while we’d be queuing.
Back on the road, sometimes getting lost is the best thing that can happen as you discover some great places by accident. The locals had a curious method for pointing us in the right direction – it was always straight on! We tested the theory by variously asking for directions to Milton Keynes, Venus and Never Never Land. Sure enough, we were assured with a smile and vigorous sideways nod that all destinations, however fictitious, were all straight ahead.
When the teams eventually met up in Mangalore many a tale was told at the bar. It seemed every team had an adventure of epic proportions to tell. And rightly so.
Drinking whisky driving risky
Goa as you no doubt know, is a favoured hang out for dreadlocked die-hard hippies who say “cosmic” far too much. It is also a great place for spotting comedy road signs. “Control your nervy on the curvy” and “This is a Highway Not a Dieway” were just some of the gems. How much more fun driving would be back home if we followed their lead.
Menus also had some interesting translations. We never did sample the “Lamb Hot Pout” or “Banana Filters”, instead tucking in to freshly caught Red Snapper. With a cold Kingfisher watching sunset on the Arabian sea, life was good.
We spent the next few days driving up the coast and thankfully the rains abated for a time. Time was spent on the beach playing cricket with the locals and nights were spent in beach-front shacks drinking what the locals had made.
Fish eyes and fag butts
During one night in Panjim, the local crazy juice led to a night of one-upmanship. Feni, a Goan brew made from coconut sap was doing the rounds and things gradually escalated. First it was two shots of Feni, then “Fish eye Feni” leading on to “Fag butt Feni”. This of course led to the inevitable pool party, which someone always ruins by blowing chunks in the shallow end. Not helped that on this occasion it was littered with fish eyes and fag butts.
The next morning was a slow process of sobering up. At least it allowed our aching bodies time to recover. Then we were back on the road again. This time heading north along the coast to our final destination, Mumbai.
Mumbai is India in microcosm. Ancient yet modern. Fabulously wealthy yet achingly poor.
Surprisingly, this was the only place on the whole trip where we experienced any form of begging. Even then it wasn’t threatening, although it was persistent.
A pair of genuine fake Ray-Bans was knocked down from 280 Rupees to 70 Rupees in the space of ten minutes. This is about how long the sunglasses lasted until a lens fell out. We arrived at the finish line complete with a Police escort and a melee of press photographers and TV crews on our heels.
After plenty of self congratulation we had a long overdue shower in the hotel, got changed and headed out to the closing party. Needless to say the conversations were littered with tales of wheels falling off, engines blowing up and assorted near death experiences. The thing was none of it needed to be exaggerated. It really was that bonkers.
The biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Team Pink Panic (Trifle’s very own Jenny and Gabi). They managed to trump Team Catastrophe in the crashing stakes. Three days earlier their rickshaw overshot a corner on a mountain road. It came to rest hanging upside down in some vegetation high above a ravine. After crawling free, Jenny promptly dusted herself down. It looked like a miraculous escape until Jenny noticed the exposed bones of her left foot. As the rickshaw overturned her foot was trapped between the rickshaw and the road.
A few hours of surgery and one skin graft later and she’d made it back to Mumbai in a wheelchair. Battered, bandaged, but ready to do it all over again.